Do we make gun ownership a fifth vital sign?

Please read the next few lines closely. This is not about the Constitution. Not about the “right to bear arms” or banning guns. Not about you answering this with some canned speech either way. Nor is it about having the answers. What it is about is the fact that even in small town America our neighbors have now learned what the big cities have known for a long time. It is no longer safe to send our children to school. Not inner city high schools where it has not been safe for years but any school. Not high school where teens dress funny, become alienated or bullied and hold grudges.

No, we are now up to kindergarten. It’s really not safe anymore to send your children to pre-school where they still take naps, some still wear “Pull-Ups” and everyone hugs each other. And for the record, it’s also not safe for you to go to temple, church or the movies. These are mass shootings, all by people with guns. Not bombings, not tear gas, not gang wars, all shootings. I know the story; it’s not the guns, it’s the people who have them. I could argue that when the people who have guns are “off” a bit, the guns make those people ten times more dangerous then if they had a knife. But let’s not argue that today. Bear with me as I feel we need to lead the way on this and it’s not by argument. That has not worked.

Lets talk about the problem. Mass shootings is the problem. Ok, so, it’s not the guns, it’s the people who shoot them. These shootings used to happen every few years. I vividly remember the Texas college student in the school tower picking off people with a rifle when I was young. It was traumatic then. But it happened every few years. Now we are down to a mass shooting every month or so. Newtown is just the most tragic and most recent. Here we have a young man who has been described as a loner (and much worse) being taught how to shoot guns by his Mom who decided she needed to have an arsenal at home because she was a single mother. All legal. How and why she decided her son needed to have access to those guns also is beyond my comprehension. Still legal.

As you know I have never been shy about my feelings. Us Brooklyn kids let you know how we feel. Watching a PA colleague speak on CNN about his truly beautiful daughter who was shot to death at Newtown hit home enough for me. On this problem we need a dialogue. A new way to talk about this. It’s not going away and pointing fingers is not going to take it away. If my colleagues tell me it’s not the guns, what is it? To me, even putting guns into the hands of mentally deranged, drunk, high or unbalanced people is completely nuts, so how do we make a difference? How do we NPs and PAs start to make our world healthier? Do we make gun ownership a fifth vital sign? If you own a gun, should we ask you if you have someone at home that you would worry about having access to it? Should we ask if you have a lock box? If it’s not our business, whose business is it? Should we really make it hard to purchase assault weapons? Have all the guns you need, just not ones designed for mass killing. What do we do? Argue with each other?

As advanced practice clinicians-medical practitioners we must be advocates, not just for our patients but for the health of our country. I know one thing, we either have to restrict certain people, restrict weapons or both. It’s time to talk. We need a dialogue and if we are really the advocates we say we are, we have to start it. It is time.

To play Red State, Blue State or not meet somewhere in the middle will only mean more people die. Time to be the healers we say we are.

David Mittman is a physician assistant and has practiced family medicine in Brooklyn, NY and served as President of the New York State Society of Physician Assistants.  He is also the founder of Clinician 1.

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