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Wanted: Local Medical Experts/Champions to Prevent Gun Violence

handgun painted with american flag

In response to the current, horrific US public health crisis—an epidemic of gun violence due primarily to handguns—physician leaders are calling upon health care professionals to become involved in solutions, in both their medical and community lives.1, 2, 3 A lack of knowledge about guns and gun violence is cited by some (personal communication, Michael R. Weiss, as an impediment, preventing many of these potential partners from joining the project. My recent experiences working on gun violence do indeed support this concern about an information deficit among many medical colleagues (physicians, nurses, medical social workers, and hospital administrators) about gun violence. This indeed may well be a significant cause keeping them from becoming involved with patients, families, and the general public on the many topical aspects of gun violence.

As an army veteran who subsequently worked in Chicago at a Level I trauma hospital for 35 years and served 9 years as President of the Chicago Board of Health, I believed that I knew a fair amount about guns and gun violence. Thus, I immodestly developed a presentation on the topic, which I offered at no cost or honorarium, to hospitals, medical centers, clinics, and professional organizations in the state. I was never (so far at least) turned down, although I was, in some cases, postponed. At some of the sites the issue was clearly not considered a high priority by program planners. I was however, quite impressed and pleased that those in the audiences who were at the sharp end of care had great interest in the epidemiologic data, technical information about guns, clinical information about gun injuries, individual counseling approaches, and the strategies for prevention that were proffered. That said, in 2018 there does seem to be a paucity of hardcore knowledge about gun violence among those in health care, including knowledge of guns and how they work, the realities and specifics about gun-induced suicides, unintentional injuries, the long-term medical and emotional effects of gun-inflicted wounds on survivors, societal costs, demographics of gun deaths, etc. This is not surprising given the facts that: the percentage of Americans who have had military experience has become much smaller than it was several generations ago; gun violence infrequently impacts the cultures from which health care professionals, including physicians, are recruited; and finally, hunters are few in urbanized US communities. In addition, there are currently no formal educational programs on any aspects of gun violence for medical students, postgraduate education and training programs, or in nursing schools.5 Unfortunately, this lack of solid information clearly prevents health professionals from actively taking advantage of teachable moments for discussions about guns and gun violence, and its prevention.

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-James Webster, MD, MS

-This article originally appeared in the March issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

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