Category Archives: Violence

Gun violence and children: One doctor’s story

3996084730_a38c1d27dePeople who take care of young shooting victims rarely talk publicly about what they see and experience. As a result, the debate about gun violence is often theoretical, numbers-driven, and prone to strident sloganeering.

What actually happens is buried in euphemism: 20 first graders “die” at Sandy Hook, dozens of young children and teens are “killed” in one grim Chicago year, and so on. We don’t see the damage that bullets cause to young bodies, or watch as their lives slowly ebb away, as so many first responders and ER workers do. And so we remain one step removed from the reality of what guns can do–are doing–to our children.

Dr. David Newman, an emergency medicine physician at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, takes readers up close to the carnage in a recent NY Times opinion piece, “At the E.R., Bearing Witness to Gun Violence.” It’s a short essay, but graphically to the point:

“Another child I will never forget was a 13-year-old who was shot twice in the abdomen by an older boy who mistook him for one of a group that had bullied and berated him a week earlier. Slick with sweat and barely conscious, he groaned and turned to look at me. Soon after, he died in the operating room. His mother arrived minutes later, wide-eyed and breathless.”

Newman offers no solution to this epidemic, but points out the fallacy of many pro-gun arguments. Keeping a gun in the home for protection? A family member is 18 times more likely to die in that house than is an intruder.

Newman closes his essay with an eloquence only those who work so close to the mayhem can muster:

Sally Cox, a school nurse in Newtown, told Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes” that when state troopers led her out of the school after the mass shooting they instructed her to cover her eyes. This was humane, and right. But some of us see every day what no one should, ever. If the carnage remains undiscussed, we risk complacency about an American epidemic — one that is profoundly difficult, but necessary, to watch, and to confront. That is why I bear witness.

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Guns, then and now

FirearmsBrowsing the 1968 World Book Encyclopedia (“F” volume) at my parents-in-law’s house a couple of days ago, I came across an entry titled “Firearms.” Included was the illustration at left, of the types of firearms in circulation then: automatic pistol, revolver, bolt-action rifle, a couple of shotguns. (Not sure how a Howitzer got included on the list, but God bless the old World Book for it’s quirkiness…)

Notice that none of these weapons (including the Howitzer) carried more than a half-dozen or so bullets or cartridges. It’s not that weapons with higher killing power didn’t exist in 1968. We were in the thick of the Vietnam War, after all, with its profusion of pistols, rifles, submachine guns, and the like. But nobody expected to see those weapons out on the street here at home.

Things hadn’t really changed all that much between 1776 and 1968, gun-wise. Whether you were firing your single-shot musket at the British or your “Saturday Night Special” in the middle of a 1960s bar fight, you very quickly ran out of ammunition and were forced to reload. Not so today, when the AR-15 used by the Newtown shooter reportedly had a 100-round magazine.

I was a sophomore in high school in 1968. Had someone opened fire in our lunch-time cafeteria, he might have hit a few of us before having to reload and probably being overpowered. In 2012 he could easily wipe out the whole place.

This madness has to stop.

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Has it come to this?

crying-childThe American Academy of Pediatrics now offers “Resources to Help Parents, Children and Others Cope in the Aftermath of School Shootings.” It’s important information, of course, but what a comment on American society that we need to have an easily accessible website–like we have for vaccinations and bike safety–ready for “the next time.”

This madness has got to stop.

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My brother was right: Handgun homicides, Seattle and Vancouver, 1988

My brother, John Henry Sloan M.D., was the lead author of a 1988 study in the New England Journal of Medicine that compared Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, in terms of rates of specific crimes and, in particular, homicide due to handguns. The two cities were chosen because of their closeness (140 miles), similar demographics, and dramatically different handgun regulations–Vancouver’s laws being far more restrictive.

The study found little difference between the two cities in rates of simple assault, robbery, and burglary. It did find, though, that residents of Seattle were more likely to be victims of homicide, and that the excess risk was entirely due to a 4.8-fold increase in the risk of death by handgun. There was no difference in homicide by any other method.

Their conclusion: “Restricting access to handguns may reduce the rate of homicide in a community.” Wise words that have fallen on politically deaf ears here in the U.S. ever since.


Filed under Guns, Politics, Safety, Violence