Blog | Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Is more gun control the right prescription?

Guns are in the news again. Here are some incontrovertible facts.
• Mass murders committed by young males have become a new phenomenon in American life.
• Individuals who should not be permitted to own a firearm can legally purchase one.
• Many other advanced nations have much lower incidences of mass killings.
• There is no political solution to this issue in sight.

I remain skeptical that restricting guns will make us safer. I doubt that further legal restrictions against buying guns would apply to criminals who by definition are law breakers. I concede that we should consider additional barriers to keeping guns away from those who are mentally unstable. I challenge any reader here to offer a template on how we might accomplish this. There are tens of millions of Americans with mental illness or a history of mental disease. What about creepy people or folks who seem angrier than they should be? Loners? Assuming we could identify these millions of citizens, how would we use this information in the event that some of them wanted to buy a gun? Tell me how you would do this because I haven't a clue here.

Consider these facts.
• The vast majority of mentally ill Americans will never commit violence.
• Medical ethics and privacy regulations do not permit identifying mentally ill people.
• New or existing laws would not have prevented most or all of these mass killings.
• We have no reliable method to predict a person's violent potential.

Even if we could eliminate these horrible paroxysms of violence—a worthy and necessary societal objective—we should realize that most of the hundreds of thousands of yearly deaths by gun are not mass murders.

An overall reduction of violence will not be solved by incarceration or gathering up guns. The solution that continues to evade us will be as much from economic, social, and educational policies as from our legal response. I am not blaming society for the actions of criminals. But, I do believe that the solution will be of societal origin.

I know many gun owners. I understand their passion in protecting their constitutional right to own a firearm. They recoil when gun control advocates pose questions such as, ‘why does one person need so many guns?’ They believe that unfettered gun ownership is their right and it is not for others to limit it. Many of us use the same argument with regard to free speech. Ugly speech and provocative art are protected. Haven't we heard protests against offensive art by those who argue “Why should a museum display this filth?”

Like everyone, I am angry, vexed and ashamed. As physicians understand, making the diagnosis is often the easy part.

This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.