On December 14, 2012, I was on duty at the Danbury Hospital Emergency Department in Connecticut when the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy occurred. In addition to overseeing resuscitative efforts for those children and educators who arrived to our emergency department, I remotely collaborated with paramedics on scene. I am a Newtown resident, and two of my children were on lockdown at Newtown High School as the tragedy was unfolding. Close friends of mine lost children at Sandy Hook.
As a result of my experiences of the Sandy Hook Tragedy, I have embraced the challenges of the gun violence epidemic, and have sought to effect change at local and national levels. In addition to co-founding the advocacy organization, United Physicians of Newtown, I testified before the Connecticut General Assembly and before the US Senate Judiciary Committee concerning the proposed 2013 Assault Weapons Ban. I have discussed the public health issues of gun violence on CNN, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, NPR, in People Magazine, and at numerous regional and national medical conventions. Some of my experiences are also featured in the documentary, Newtown, which aired recently on PBS and that will be shown following the TIPS meeting at ACEP 17.
There are many lessons to be learned about advocacy for any health topic, but especially for the health topic of gun violence prevention. The most important considerations are to maintain the framework that gun violence is a public health issue, and to focus on common interests over partisan positions. One must speak about evidence-based data, the need for research, the toll gun violence has on society and your community, and the first-hand experiences you have had treating gun violence victims. You can put yourself, your family, and your institution at risk when you use terms like “gun control” and “NRA”, or speak in an inflammatory manner. Regardless of your personal opinions, Americans have a Second Amendment right to bear arms, and it is far more effective to be respectful and proactive (medical and public health issues) than to step outside of your medical training to speak about political issues – understanding, of course, that they may be intertwined. Speaking with political figures is acceptable and beneficial, but campaigning for those same elected officials is fraught with untoward consequences, including risking your credibility as a respected member of the medical community.
The best opportunities are created by you. Offering to speak at selected local or regional venues, testifying at public hearings, or attending meetings of gun violence prevention groups create many opportunities to collaborate with those who also want to decrease the over 30,000 gun deaths and 70,000 gun injuries each year.