There have been 311 mass shootings in the U.S. this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and the year isn't even over. And while we hear quite a lot from activists, we don't hear as often from those who deal most directly with the health effects of gun violence: people in the medical community. Last week, however, many of them took their opportunity to speak publicly after the National Rifle Association (NRA) sent out a tweet telling “self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.”
“Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control,” the tweet continued. “Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.” The tweet came on the heels of several members of the medical community speaking out about gun control after the mass shooting at a California bar that killed 12 people.
Many doctors and nurses quickly responded to the NRA’s tweet and have continued to argue that, as members of the medical community caring for those directly affected by gun violence, they see the effects of it first-hand. The hashtag #ThisIsMyLane quickly went viral. For instance, one of the doctors to tweet about the issue, Cornelia Griggs, M.D., a pediatric surgeon, said she saw a 5-year-old child nearly bleed to death and "watched his father die in front of him from gun shot wounds."
Dr. Griggs tells SELF that she decided to speak out because "this is one of the most important public health crises facing our country right now."
Given that there still haven't been any major changes to gun control policy, doctors are realizing that they have to take matters into their own hands, she says. “Doctors, no matter where they stand on the issue of Second Amendment rights, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, are coming together and saying that we are anti-bullet hole,” she says. “We have seen enough patients shot and killed, held enough shattered children’s hearts in our hands, and seen families destroyed. It’s time for things to change.”
Dr. Griggs says she regularly sees gunshot victims in the children’s hospital where she works. “It’s unacceptably frequent,” she says. As a mom, Dr. Griggs says that it really hits home to treat a pediatric patient with a gunshot wound. “Every time I take care of a child who has been shot, I think about what that patient’s mother is going through,” she says. “I imagine the worst-case scenario of one of my own children being the victim of gun violence and it’s harrowing.”
Here’s what other doctors have to say about gun violence being very much within their lane:
1. Treating the victims of gun violence is often a medically challenging task.
It may seem obvious, but as weapons designed to cause harm, guns can create life-threatening medical emergencies that make it difficult if not impossible for doctors to save patients in many cases. The most common issues depend on the severity of the injury, but commonly require doctors to prevent too much blood loss, treat damage to organs or bones, prevent infection, and manage pain. Longer-term hospital stays might be required if a patient needs rehabilitation for something like a brain or spinal cord injury. And let's not forget the often long-term mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, that may follow in the aftermath of the injury.
2. Doctors have to break the bad news to surviving relatives.
Trying to save someone who has been the victim of gun violence is hard enough. But several doctors also talked about the trauma of having to be the one to tell family members that they lost a loved one who was shot.
3. The data we have about the health effects of gun violence doesn’t lie.
Some doctors pointed out that there’s no getting around the data: Gun violence, which includes suicide, has a devastating effect on the U.S. According to a study published in 2015 in Preventive Medicine, more than 67,000 people are injured by guns every year in the U.S., and 32,000 of them die, which amounts to nearly 100 gun deaths every day.
And if the cost of human lives isn't enough to convince you, the 2015 study also found that firearm injuries result in $ 48 billion worth of hospital costs and work lost every year, the vast majority of which is attributed to fatal injuries. A more recent study published in Health Affairs last year confirmed that amount, attributing $ 2.8 billion to hospital changes and $ 46 billion to lost wages and medical care.
4. The impact goes deeper than most people think, physically and emotionally.
The effects of a gunshot wound are often dramatic and, for those of us who don't see them every day, sometimes unexpectedly grim.
5. Doctors are traumatized by gun violence, too.
Several doctors wrote about having to learn to cope with the grief after not being able to save a gunshot patient, and the trauma of caring for these patients. “There is a concept of a second victim in anyone who takes care of really sick patients,” Dr. Griggs says. "It’s hard."
6. Doctors are literally knee deep in this.
Many doctors are now sharing photos of themselves after caring for gunshot patients, and it's difficult to come to grips with.
Dr. Griggs says she hopes that the medical community will "generate momentum" with their tweets. "As the medical community, it is our responsibility to keep pushing the needle forward," she says. "The same way we moved the needle on smoking and tobacco, I would challenge our Surgeon General to listen to what all the physicians are saying and to take this into the hands of government as a public health crisis—which is exactly what this is."