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In Gun Debate, Physicians Edge Closer to Front Lines

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, December 20, 2012

In an interview, he also raises soul-searching questions about this country's mental health programs, which he says are overburdened, underfunded and inadequate.

"I do think physicians are educated about the public health issues about guns and gun safety, so we could always do more, and this will probably spur us to do more," Lazarus tells me. "This issue has been a policy of the AMA for a long time about educating physicians about gun safety."

As for as the mental health system, "we presume we have sufficient ability to evaluate people, but where do we put them?" Lazarus says. "It raises the issue of a mental health system that is underfunded, and overburdened. Basically, these people are put in jails and prisons, and we don't have a lot of hospital beds. It raises a lot of issues along those lines."

Whether there were opportunities to stop Adam Lanza before he allegedly carried out his rampage will always be an unknown. Lanza, 20, is believed to have shot his mother four times in her bed, and then gunned down 26 other people, including 6 adults, in the killing spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

As far as his condition, there is media speculation, but no confirmation, that Lanza had Asperger's syndrome—which is not a mental health issue.

Referring to mass killings in America, Lazarus says that "more than half of those [killers] had [acknowledged] mental illness and a significant number did not." But mass murders by shooting aren't the only problem facing America related to violence, he says.

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2 comments on "In Gun Debate, Physicians Edge Closer to Front Lines"


DR. GREMILLION (12/20/2012 at 5:36 PM)
right. as if doctors have enough time to ask critical questions. they need to get on board to insist metal detectors and at least 1 armed guard are assigned to each school. dont do that you are spitting in the wind. but the ama has been doing that for decades.

Gainer Pillsbury, MD (12/20/2012 at 4:25 PM)
Mental health facilities must be expanded, but in addition, there are some concrete measures lawmakers can develop and strengthen as well. I have been a gun owner and a hunter for 60 years and was a former member of the NRA. Based on that experience, I have some suggestions for commonsense measures that might reduce the incidence of such horrific events as we hear about much too often. 1. Guns are tools, and as such there are risks involved with their utilization. I believe everyone who buys a gun should produce evidence that they have had a gun safety course. This is required in most states before a person can buy a hunting license, so why not require one of everyone who wishes to purchase a firearm of any kind? This is the issue I quit the NRA over because their position is that owning a gun is a "constitutional right" and a person need not learn how to use one first. 2. Background checks should be required for everyone buying a gun. Gun shows should not be exempt and there should be penalties for selling or giving a gun to another person without a reasonable effort being made to be sure the person receiving the gun was not mentally impaired or has a criminal background. Selling or trading guns over the internet should be restricted. 3. Violent video games depicting humans being killed should be rated. Young children often love to see people being shot and blown up, and I believe that desensitizes them to the horrible effects real ammunition has on real people. The animated characters get up and fight again, but not so a human being. Shooting animals, monsters, cartoon characters, etc are fine, but games depicting human figures should be X-rated to keep them out of the hands of impressionable children and teenagers. 4. In a similar vein, I believe human silhouette targets should not be permitted at shooting ranges unless they are utilized by police officers or for self defense courses. Before I go deer or elk hunting I shoot at life size targets of those animals. This desensitizes me so when I see the real animal in the field, I am less apt to become nervous and not make a good shot. I see people shooting at human silhouette targets frequently at rifle and pistol ranges, and I believe that experience desensitizes some of them making it easier to target real people. I would not be surprised to learn that the mother of the shooter in Newtown let her son shoot at human silhouette targets at the range where she took him – and he got used to it. 5. There is no need for a gun used for hunting or target practice or even home protection to have a capacity of more than 7 or 8 bullets. Clips allowing more should be outlawed. Although automatic firing should not be permitted, a semiautomatic mechanism is useful for some people because the recoil is diminished by the ejection of the shells. Whether the gun looks like a traditional rifle or like an assault weapon is immaterial as long as the magazine capacity is limited and the gun cannot be converted to automatic firing mode. All hunters of migratory birds such as waterfowl are used to the fact that they may have no more than 3 shells in their shotgun. A plug must be put into those guns that would hold more. Game wardens routinely check to be sure the plug is in place and a fine imposed if the plug is not there. All waterfowlers have gotten used to this restriction and I have never heard any serious complaints. 6. There is no need for any hunter or target shooter to utilize armor piercing bullets. These are only useful to penetrate body armor and should be restricted to law enforcement individuals and the military. There are no restrictions on guns that will completely eliminate gun violence, but I believe the 5 commonsense recommendations I made will help. I am a physician executive in a large urban hospital, and we have shooting victims regularly. Our trauma surgeons refer to the "Saturday night gun club" These are usually single events where disturbed people settle their differences by shooting one another, but in the aggregate, the numbers are staggering.