In our August 2019 issue, two hematologists debated whether gun violence should be considered a public health issue and, by extension, whether physicians should be advocating for gun control legislation. Here, a hematologist whose life has been affected by gun violence offered his perspective on the controversial issue.
Within a week of publishing the debate, “Is Gun Control a Health Care Issue?” two more mass shootings occurred in the U.S. within 24 hours of each other. Gun violence is touching all of us and truly is a public health crisis.
It touched my family and me last fall: On November 29, 2018, my son, a radiology resident in Chicago, was in the reading room of Mercy Hospital and Medical Center when the shooting occurred. He and the other residents had to barricade themselves in a bathroom. He heard the shots and screams. He had talked that morning to the ER physician who was killed later that day.
As a parent, it is horrible to receive a phone call from your son describing an incident like this. I cannot even imagine the horror of being a parent to one of the children who has been killed as a result of gun violence.
More than 100 people each day are dying from gun violence in this country, and while two-thirds of these are due to suicides, easy access to guns has made gun violence a phenomenon unique to our country.
Some hematologists may argue that this is a political issue that the American Society of Hematology should stay out of as a professional society. Yet the only people making this into a political issue are those who are concerned that their right to bear arms might be infringed. The reality is that nobody is trying to repeal the Second Amendment. We are trying to find solutions to the gun violence epidemic that is occurring in this country.
When more than 90% of the U.S. public supports universal background checks, and when our government won’t act or even take up the issue, it should be our duty as physicians and leaders to speak up and say, “This isn’t right.”
This isn’t a complete solution, or the only solution, but it is one of many recommendations that could potentially help. Passage of red flag laws (which permit police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves) and assault weapon bans also are needed.
To do nothing, as we seem to do after each incident, is not acceptable. As a parent and as a physician, I think it is time to state quite loudly and clearly that change is needed, that efforts have to be made to stop gun violence, and that whatever professional organization we belong to, we should use our collective voices to make sure that our elected representatives know this. We are better than is. It is time for all of us to say, “Enough!”
Carlos M. de Castro, MD