image of a handgun with several bullets

Out of Touch NRA tells Front-line Healthcare Providers to “Stay In Their Lane” on Gun Control

An unnamed columnist writing for the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action blog advised physicians and other healthcare providers to “stay in their lane” when it comes to advocating for gun control.

This appears to have been sparked by the position paper published in the October, 2018 Annals of Internal Medicine authored by the Health and Public Policy Committee of the American College of Physicians. The author of the blog post argues that the paper and subsequent position statement is flawed, claiming that there is “not enough evidence” to suggest that stricter gun laws would have any effect of the rates of gun violence in the United States.

The conclusion is that medical providers should keep to doing what they do best (practicing medicine) and leave the discussion of gun control to the “experts”, by which the author apparently means gun owners and the NRA.

This article would have likely been just another throw-away piece had it not caught the attention of thousands of medical providers on Twitter. Retweets carrying the hashtag #ThisIsMyLane went viral, relaying stories of gun-shot victims that physicians, nurses, EMS providers and others have had to treat. Some were accompanied by pictures of blood-stained trauma bays or operating room suites.

It seems like an odd move to criticize the very people who have to deal with the carnage of gun violence, and given the response, the NRA picked the wrong people to bully. There were more than 16,000 comments within just a few hours, mostly from healthcare providers denouncing the article and the accompanying tweet.

What is even more concerning is the bravado by which the author claims “there is no evidence” to suggest that more guns equal more gun violence. The NRA is an organization that has put up millions of dollars to silence the gun violence epidemic. The United States represents only 4.4 percent of the world population, yet possesses 42 percent of the worlds privately owned guns.

There is concrete data that demonstrates states with more guns have more gun-related homicides, suicides, and law enforcement deaths than states with fewer guns. Why this has had little impact on better gun laws is likely a result of the millions of dollars contributed to politicians who oppose any form of gun restrictions at all. But data is data, and there is increasing evidence that our gun laws need amending.

The article in question criticizes the stance of the American College of Physicians, stating that the answer lies in better enforcement of current gun laws rather than restrictions that might limit the number of guns on the streets. Yet in the wake of Stoneman Douglas, Umpqua, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Columbine, the heavy lobbying by the NRA has escalated and is higher than any previous year to date. At a time when gunmen have fired on our schools, in movie theaters and at concerts, the NRA has boosted their spending to ensure that individual citizens have access to assault weapons, automatic weapons and have limited waiting periods as well as limited restrictions to access. The message of the NRA that both rallies and scares its base is that “they are coming to get your guns.”  As a result, they have successfully blocked legislation banning bump stocks, restricting gun sales to individuals on the terrorist watch list, and limiting the ability of law enforcement to trace guns used in violent crime. The NRA has supported legislation to eliminate no gun zones in schools as well as legislation that would allow for college students to carry concealed guns on campus. Does this sound like an organization that wants better enforcement of current gun laws?

Regardless of what the NRA thinks, this is a significant public health matter. The statistics are staggering.  Firearms are the leading cause of non-medical death in the United States. They account for over 35,000 deaths per year in this country, more than any other developed country in the world. Firearms account for nearly 70 percent of the reported homicides in the United States and another 85,000 individuals are injured by guns annually.

Seven children are killed by guns every day. In one study, 33 percent of high school students in one urban school who possessed a firearm had shot at someone at least once. There are approximately 2,000 deaths by domestic violence annually and of these, 50 percent involve a firearm. Firearms are involved in more completed suicides than any other method combined. Furthermore, firearm ownership has a positive correlation to gun violence death rates. Alaska leads the country with 62 percent gun ownership and also leads the country in homicide death rate by firearm. These are all facts that the NRA would like to ignore and conceal, and as an organization would like to deny is a public health issue.

In 1978, all Ford Pintos were recalled because of an approximated 180 deaths from a design flaw in the gas tank placement. This was viewed as a significant public health and safety issue and the government took action to fix it. By comparison, in 2017, there were 2,114 deaths from firearms and yet there has been no recall on guns. And if the NRA wants to ignore healthcare providers, then maybe they should do the same for law enforcement. The National Law Enforcement Partnership to End Gun Violence and its partners have also called for better gun laws in an effort to curb gun violence and firearm-related death. Is the NRA going to tell them to stay in their lane as well?

This is a public health issue, and healthcare providers have not just the right — but also the responsibility — to address it. These are the people on the front lines of what happens when guns are in the wrong hands. To suggest that healthcare providers have no say on this matter ignores the abundance of evidence that suggests more guns equals more gun violence.

To suggest that this is solely a mental health issue is ridiculous rhetoric attempting to deflect the facts. All healthcare providers should share their stories, their photos, and their data with the NRA. More so, we as healthcare providers need to share this with the public and with our political leaders. Money talks in American politics, but it is hard to ignore a unified voice that is now yelling out loud that this can’t continue.

I’m in my lane, NRA. I’m armed with stories and facts and ready to do battle to end the violence and my colleagues in healthcare are right behind me.


Stephen Wood

Stephen P. Wood, MS, ACNP is an acute care nurse practitioner practicing emergency medicine in Boston, Massachusetts, and a fellow in bioethics at the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

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