The National Rifle Association ruffled a lot of feathers recently when it published a tweet that said that doctors should “stay in their lane” on the subject of gun control.
As a practicing physician, you might be surprised to hear that I side with the NRA.
There’s something fundamentally different between diagnosing and treating a disease in a patient and recommending a new law because you treat people injured by guns.
While I can sympathize with how sad it is to see one shooting attack after another in the news, the fact remains that gun violence is currently at a historic low in the United States. The FBI reports that gun violence was actually at its all-time highest in the mid 1980s. The rate has gone from 2,400 shooting deaths per 100,000 people in the 80s down to 600 per 100,000 in 2016. That means shooting deaths actually went down 75 percent in the last 30 years!
But whether or not gun deaths are going up or down, the key problem is that doctors have been disguising partisan political proposals as medical recommendations.
When you push for a medical recommendation to become law, you are essentially trying to make the entire nation your involuntary patient. When doctors put on their white coats in political discourse and recommend authoritarian policies, they’re acting outside the scope of their expertise — and trying to force their opinions on millions of unwilling subjects.
The idea of informed consent is paramount to medical practice. As doctors, we should never force our therapy on our patients. Not only is this immoral, but the results can be deadly.
For decades, medical professionals have advised low fat, high carb diets, which studies increasingly show is completely misguided. Had this been just advice from doctors to their patients, that would be one thing. Instead, with the government’s support this advice was established as indisputable fact and taught to an entire generation. The result has been to kick off a diabetes epidemic that’s set to make my generation the first in American history to have shorter life expectancies than their parents.
This is also the same profession that refused the idea that stomach ulcers could be caused by H. Pylori for nearly twenty years. This stubbornness prevented people from getting the appropriate treatment for easily curable stomach ulcers, leading hundreds of thousands of people to suffer or die unnecessarily.
Today, because of irresponsible medical prescription practices, the U.S. is currently facing an opioid epidemic that claimed the lives of an estimated 72,000 people last year. This is roughly the same amount estimated to have been killed by guns in that same time period.
Clearly, “staying in our lane” and focusing on the problems being perpetrated by our own industry could have a much more significant impact on the country than getting involved with gun politics at a time when guns have never posed less of a safety threat.
While many of my colleagues think of laws as helpful rules that let people get along, the truth is that laws are enforced by governments with the use or threat of violence. This isn’t hyperbole; if people fail to comply, they will be arrested and locked in a cage.
Medicine and public policy have no legitimate relationship to each other. Medicine concerns itself with diagnosing and healing individuals. Public policy concerns itself with the use of state violence against peaceful people.
As healers, we should always reject the use of violence. Even if we think a law might make the world a safer place, it remains immoral for doctors to advocate new laws that will be enforced with violence. Let’s stay in our lane and focus on healing.
Kyle Varner is an internal medicine physician who blogs at his self-titled site, Dr Varner, He can be reached on Twitter @Doctor_Varner.
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