Sitting through last week’s GunMeggedon (the all-day marathon of hearings on proposed anti-gun bills) in the California Senate’s Public Safety Committee was enough to raise one’s blood pressure to dangerous levels. The day culminated for Dr. Wheeler and me in the hearing of SB 1006 (Firearm Violence Research Center, Senator Wolk). That experience was already summarized previously by Dr. Wheeler.
In her introductory remarks on April 19th, Senator Wolk said the University of California is “perfectly situated to do the research” she thirsts for. She did not say how and why the U.C. is “perfectly situated” to meet this goal.
Garen Wintemute (the self-described one-of-a-dozen-national “experts” in the field of pseudo-medical anti-gun agitprop who has just such an operation active smack dab in the middle of Wolk’s district) has eagerly hovered close to the witness table at every hearing this bill has had to date. His presence makes it obvious to anyone with more than a superficial understanding of the issue where this center is intended to be located and who is intended to run it. Even a large public institution like the UC would not waste time and resources building such an institution de novo if one is already in place.
That issue aside, let’s examine the arguments presented by the witnesses in support of the bill. In particular, two Sacramento area physicians who seem to have drunk the anti-gun Kool-Aid ladled out by Garen Wintemute. Their testimony consisted of the same modus operandi evident in all medical anti-gun crusaders’ acts: throw up a fistful of statistics like confetti over a gore parade. And use syllogisms. Lots of syllogisms. They’re like big, multisyllabic words. They make one sound smart. And right.
The first physician to testify was Dr. Kevin Jones, an E.R. physician who represented the California chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians. He asserted that “physicians rely on research for evidence based care”. I’m all for evidence-based medical care. He led with the example of stroke research resulting in reduced mortality by way of prevention. He then segued to the argument that he needs the Firearm Violence Research Center to do “research that allows me to effectively treat” gunshot wounds like he needs stroke research to help him treat stroke patients.
But what does the reason that Johnny shot Mikey have to do with medical care or medical prevention?
A physician’s job is a clinical one: it is to stop the bleeding, mend the bones, close the wounds and do all the other things necessary to ensure the patient leaves the hospital alive. The events that happen during Johnny’s progress from a doe-eyed kindergartner to a 16 year old juvenile gang member who shoots Mikey are multifactorial and sociological. They are not medical.
Research guiding physicians to do those very clinical things I mentioned has been and continues to be conducted. It’s called trauma medicine. What has passed for objective research in the dubious field of public health gun research, however, has been advocacy research which proclaims banal findings such as: “gunshot wounds are among the most severe injuries a child can suffer”. It agitates for busybodies to strip away good people’s civil rights by attributing causality of multifactorial phenomena to the presence of a single object. Or, it is not research at all but public wringing of the hands that culminates with calling good people murderers if they use deadly force to defend their own lives (bibliography, bottom of page here).
Next to testify was Dr. Lindsey Harms, a pediatrics resident in the Sacramento area. She spoke on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which she identified as a co-sponsor of SB 1006.
Dr. Harms started her testimony asserting: “gun violence is a pediatric issue”.
No, it’s not. As I stated earlier violence, regardless of form or tools used is first and foremost a criminological problem and secondly a social one. Accidental shootings, which are not a medical issue, can be reduced but not entirely eliminated through education.
Harms then declared “gun violence is preventable”. This is an exercise in sophomoric sloganeering. Violence is inherent to the human condition. Firearms are just one tool employed by violent people. Does she think sharp object violence is preventable? What about blunt object violence? Fist violence?
She proceeded to the next predictable part of her testimony, the gore parade of injuries and wounds. This is just cheap emotional manipulation.
Yet, as she proclaimed that, in the U.S., firearms are the most lethal method of suicide for young people (they are, for all age groups) I wondered if she’d considered what are the most common (and just as lethal) methods of suicide in countries where firearms are not accessible, where the suicide rates are higher than that of the U.S. Because, after all, she ranks the U.S. against them. And she cares about the children. She says she does, because she says she wants to protect children. But the responsibility of protecting children rests with their parents and not idealistic budding physicians with a savior complex and nanny state impulses.
Dr. Harms and Dr. Jones both beat the same drum to the same hackneyed “we-need-research-and-data” beat. But what new data will hoplophobic advocacy researchers with an axe to grind conjure up that is not available through the FBI’s crime data? And why is prevention particularly more important in pediatrics and not in adults or geriatrics?
Invoking other fields’ strides in reducing preventable deaths, as Dr. Jones did, is an invalid comparison in this debate. Those advances were made by addressing medical issues or other single-factor non-medical issues. Preventing the tragedy of one innocent kid having the terrible misfortune of being shot in two separate drive-by shootings, or one kids from one gang shooting another kid from another gang are things we all care about and things we should endeavor to prevent. But we are not going to do that by treating wrongful homicides as if they were cholera, malaria or chlamydia. Neither a virus nor the gun made Johnny shoot Mikey.
Dr. Harms, in exhorting the committee to support SB 1006, stated: “The role of science is to guide us by objective data, especially where our personal bias might be misleading …. As a pediatrician, I want unbiased research. I want objective data…”
If Dr. Harms gets her way in the form of the Firearm Violence Research Center, she will get none of those things. All she will do is strip away the civil rights of countless good people. She’ll have done more harm than good.