It’s time to stop being afraid to study gun violence

A new message pops up on my phone. I signal to the attending and step out of the OR.  I’m on anesthesia rotation at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, as a pediatrics resident at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. But because I’m also a mom to a first grader in Cupertino, both my pager and my cell phone are frequently “on call”.

“I want to take this opportunity to update you about the police activity at Monta Vista High School this morning.”

My heart skips a beat.

It’s the superintendent, to tell us a bomb threat closes Monta Vista and a nearby elementary school.  My daughter’s school, just a few miles away, will stay open.  I rationalize that this is Cupertino, the heart of Silicon Valley and home of Apple.  Surely nothing bad will happen here, of all places. I call my husband to make sure he keeps an eye on the news, and head back to the OR.

This was December 13, the day before Newtown.

Can you imagine the reaction if this happened on December 15?  But the unbelievable thing is, Newtown has happened before, over and over, leaving thousands of children dead or disabled.

I cannot reconcile Newtown with the fact that at Packard and other pediatric hospitals across the country, we can save premature babies less than a pound, we can fix hearts with tiny catheters and treat rare brain tumors. I have seen children breathe with new lungs, and “fly” out of the pediatric ICU with new kidneys, free from a lifetime of dialysis.

Attending pediatricians speak of a time when an ear infection could turn into life threatening meningitis, or years of deafness and disability.  But in today’s reality, in my short time in pediatrics, I have seen more kids affected by gunshot wounds than this feared infectious disease.

I cannot reconcile the fact that today we are willing to take a chance with the precious lives that every day we endeavor to keep safe and healthy.

Let’s change the debate from the distracting proposition of armed guards in schools. Let’s urge our elected leaders to adequately fund the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and to get back on track with firearm safety research, which according to a recent JAMA article has been virtually frozen since 1996.  Let’s not be afraid to study gun violence and draw evidence-based conclusions about its causes.  A common refrain from advocates of expanded gun access is that there is minimal data showing gun violence is the result of not enough gun control. Well, there can be no data when no studies are allowed in the first place.  Let’s stop suppressing the science at a federal level.

The reasons for gun violence are complex and varied, but the lack of research only serves to make those reasons more opaque.  As a physician scientist and a mom, I feel we should demand that research into gun violence be funded and conducted without restriction at the federal level.   This is a first step we can all agree on.

Cathleen Collins is a pediatrics resident who blogs at BadParent, MD.

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  • Close Call

    Nice post on something that’s been completely absent from the conversation on gun violence.

    I urge everyone to read the JAMA article referred to in the post. It’s kind of infuriating:

    “To ensure that the CDC and its grantees got the message, the following language was added to the final appropriation: “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”4
    Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency’s funding to find out. Extramural support for firearm injury prevention research quickly dried up. Even today, 17 years after this legislative action, the CDC’s website lacks specific links to information about preventing firearm-related violence.”

    • SBornfeld

      It’s ironic that people who claim to support the 2nd amendment apparently have so little regard to the first.

  • JonSanders

    “As a physician scientist and a mom, I feel we should demand that research into gun violence be funded and conducted without restriction at the federal level. This is a first step we can all agree on.”

    The first topic should be: Are guns a threat or a menace?

  • NormRx

    According to several research studies in the last decade, a
    total of 225,000 Americans per year have died as a result of their medical
    treatments: *
    • 12,000 deaths per year due to* unnecessary surgery *
    • 7000 deaths per year due to* medication errors in
    hospitals *
    • 20,000 deaths per year due to* other errors in hospitals *
    • 80,000 deaths per year due to* infections in hospitals *
    • 106,000 deaths per year due to* negative effects of drugs
    Thus, America’s healthcare-system-induced deaths are the**third leading cause
    of the death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer. *

    Maybe it is time you doctors start cleaning up your own act first.

    • Close Call

      What a flippant comment.

      It’s great the government is funding studies on patient safety and our elected leaders haven’t put restrictions on studies that may “advocate for patient safety”. It’s great that researchers are actually able to do these studies.

      The point of the JAMA article and this post is there has been a systematic suppression of gun violence research at the federal level. Why? Why can’t scientists at least STUDY gun violence. Why can’t there be federal money allocated to study gun violence research… like there is for obesity, poverty, breast cancer. Maybe they’ll find out that… hey,.. there are some evidence based ways to decrease the number of fatalities from gun violence.

      And if a physician, scientist and a mother can’t mention this… who is allowed to?

      • GardenVarietyMadman

        Treating gun violence if it were a disease is nearly as nonsensical as trying to legislate against pancreatic cancer.

        • Close Call

          You know people study things that aren’t diseases, right? Just because a Ph.D or an MD or an MPH studies something doesn’t make it a disease.

          I’m still trying to find something in this post or the JAMA article that advocates “legislation against guns”.

          All they’re talking about is funding gun violence STUDIES. You know… trying to find the answers about what things work in preventing it.. what things don’t work… testing hypotheses and making conclusions. This is science, come on, guys.

      • NormRx

        I don’t care if private money is used to study guns. The Joyce foundation already pores millions into anti-gun “research.” So we should give millions of federal money to an anti-gun researcher so they can produce more biased anti-gun results.

        So my comments on doctors cleaning up their own act is “flippant,” tell that to the thousand of families that lost a loved one to doctor negligence. It is not me saying this, it is your own magazine, JAMA.

        • Close Call

          Why is it you think any research into gun violence would be “anti-gun”? Are all scientists “anti-gun”? Maybe they’ll find something interesting like… doctors asking about guns in the home have no effect on morbidity or mortality associated with guns.

          You really can’t be afraid of scientific study.

          Your comment about not allowing federal money to study gun violence is interesting. Then we should not allow the federal government to fund medical negligence studies as well, correct? Should that also be done privately by physicians, private insurance companies and patients?

          I’d get it if you were philosophically opposed to all federally funded research… but being selective about it just doesn’t make sense.

          • NormRx

            First, I don’t trust our Federal government. There has been too many instances of unethical conduct, four that come to mind are the CIA involvement in the drug trade, The CIA giving LSD to unsuspecting victims to test its effect. The Justice dept and the BATF gun running into Mexico (Fast and Furious) and the Tuskegee syphilis study. I won’t even start on the BS involved in the various global warming studies.

          • JonSanders

            The term gun violence is anti gun.

          • JonSanders

            Well then lets study something else. Why not study doctor violence? You know, doctor rapists, doctor killers, etc. That wouldn’t automatically be anti doctor, would it?

          • Close Call

            No. Studying doctor violence wouldn’t be anti doctor. Similarly, studying violence in autistic individuals isn’t “anti autism” either.

            Doctors commit malpractice all the time. They have higher rates of depression, of alcoholism, of suicide. How do we know that? Because it’s studied. In fact, it’s mostly doctors who study doctors behaving badly. They do it because they wish to stop bad things from happening. No one would call it anti-doctor research.

            What should we call research that investigates the ways in which guns are used in violent acts, how to prevent those violent acts from happening, and how to improve public health?

            Maybe I’m just way out there in thinking that freedom of research is a good thing. Maybe there really are people that think that the scientific community should be censored in what they should study…. and only when it pertains to guns.

          • JonSanders

            There is a difference between studying guns and studying gun violence. There is prejudice in jumping straight to studying violence.

          • Close Call

            You’re absolutely right. There’s prejudice in studying gun violence. It’s the gun violence that people want to prevent, right?

            Studying gun use in hunters, the mentally stable, and law abiding, responsible gun owners might yield some interesting interventions… but unless you’re allowed to study gun violence (aka the bad stuff) without restriction, then how can you come up with reproducible and effective ways to keep gun violence from happening.

  • ninguem

    Try to discuss the pro-gun position you get shouted down like Piers Morgan.

  • margo

    I think the NY time article today says it well. We have more deaths from accidents, drug abuse, guns etc in the younger population than any other developed country. the author asks the question if our culture of rugged individualism and anti government sentiments keeps this going. But it does seem like something that there is firm resistance to exploring. There is so much resistance despite the facts.