Why the NRA Is Afraid of Doctors

This week the journal Pediatrics published an article on the costs and outcomes of children treated for gunshot wounds. The researchers analyzed more than 500 emergency and trauma admissions for injuries caused by guns over a three-year period ending December, 2008. It turns out that of all injuries, gun trauma costs 30 percent more to treat, has a higher rate of post-admission mortality, and requires more extensive post-discharge therapy.

Even before the journal issue hit the newsstands, the NRA came out with its counter-argument in the form of an interview with Dr. Timothy Wheeler, who has been leading the NRA attacks on physicians since the mid-'90s when CDC funding of gun research came to an end. Wheeler has never published nor even engaged in a single bit of medical research about guns or anything else, but because he's a physician, he gets away with passing judgement on the research of his medical peers.

His judgment consists of innuendos and false arguments that have nothing to do with the content of the research per se, but support the false notions about doctors and guns that the NRA has been peddling for the last twenty years. According to Wheeler, doctors aren't interested in the health of kids, they're committed to getting rid of guns. This makes anything that doctors say about guns at best suspect, at worst a threat to gun owner's rights.

As proof that physicians want to get rid of guns, the NRA points to a policy statement announced by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1992 that was updated in 2000 and again this year after Sandy Hook. The statement says in part, "The AAP recommends that pediatricians urge parents who possess guns, especially handguns, to remove them from the home." The statement goes on to advocate bans on semi-automatic handguns and assault weapons as "the most effective way to reduce firearm-related injuries."

So there it is. If you are a gun owner, physicians are your enemies because they want to take away your guns. But that distorts what doctors are really saying about guns and what gun owners should understand about their guns. Nobody denies that guns are dangerous; nobody denies that when a gun gets into the wrong hands, a serious accident may take place. And nobody should assume that just because gun owners lock their guns up and keep them away from kids, that sometimes even the most responsible gun owner will forget and leave a gun where a kid can pick it up. Research indicates that as many as 40 percent of all homes with children also contain an unlocked gun, and in one out of every 10 homes, the gun is unlocked and loaded as well.

In the best of all possible worlds, we wouldn't need anyone to help us behave in ways that would minimize risk. We wouldn't need traffic cops to pull us over when we drive too fast, we wouldn't need judges to take away our license after a DUI, and we wouldn't need doctors to tell us not to smoke. Physicians don't expect an overweight patient who goes on a diet to ever reach the medically-ideal weight. But if that same physician didn't remind the patient at every opportunity that being overweight was a risk, the physician wouldn't be doing what physicians are supposed to do.

The NRA may want you to believe that physicians are the enemy when it comes to talking about guns. But the truth is that the NRA is afraid of physicians because they know that we trust doctors to decide what's in our best interest from a health point of view. After all, when you wake up in the middle of the night because your child is coughing and can't catch his breath, are you going to call the NRA?