CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In deliberations of the Legislature, it was suggested that physicians be forbidden to discuss firearm risks with their patients. So, before I am proscribed, here is some information I would like to relate to my patients.
To begin with, I would like to tell of two mothers of two different families. Both have a married husband and wife with a 15-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son.
One wife, wanting to do the best for her family's health and well-being, goes to a grocery store and purchases nutritious fruits and vegetables for their consumption. The other mother goes to a pawnshop and purchases a .45 caliber pistol with a full clip and places it in her bed stand to protect her family.
As time goes on, the armed wife discovers that her husband is unfaithful and is contemplating leaving her. In a state of anger and depression, she unloads the firearm into her husband, killing him instantly. Another possible scenario, the husband, in a drunken stupor, after arguing with his father, obtains the gun and kills him instantly. A third scenario is that the 15-year-old has become impregnated by her uncle so she takes the gun in the bathroom and blows her brains out. A final scenario is that the 8-year-old boy, fascinated with the firearm, shows his visiting cousins the weapon, which discharges, killing his cousin instantly. In two of these scenarios the husband and wife are sentenced to long prison terms.
In the other household, the wife, on discovering her husband's infidelity, hits him over the head with a baseball bat. He is brought to the emergency room and is in a coma for 30 days but upon recovery forgives his wife and does not press charges. She is given a suspended sentence. Or her husband, while in a drunken stupor, hits his father on the shoulder with a shovel resulting in serious injury and the son is given a light jail sentence. Or the daughter, on discovering her ill-intended pregnancy, takes a full bottle of her mother's antidepressant, is found, taken to the hospital, and fully recovers to lead an uneventful life. Or the 8-year-old boy shows his visiting relative an X-Box, demonstrating how to kill using a video game.
The family that protects itself with firearms has four deaths and two prison sentences. The other family all survive with potential redemption. As medical director of the intensive care units in West Virginia's largest medical center for nearly 25 years, scenarios similar to the above were a weekly occurrence.
Medical research has informed the public of benefits of smoking cessation and seatbelt use, with a dramatic reduction in death and disability in those areas. However, in 1996 the federal government severely restricted CDC research in firearm injury prevention.
In 2011, Florida passed what is being discussed in the West Virginia Legislature: forbidding physician-patient discussion of firearm safety.
Meanwhile, the annual U.S. carnage from firearm injury is 30,000 deaths and 70,000 non-fatal injuries. Ten times as many Americans die from firearms each year as have died in the Iraq war.
The American Academy of Pediatrics noted in 2012: "The absence of guns from homes and communities is the most effective measure to prevent suicide, homicide and unintentional injuries to children and adolescents. Household death is three times as likely to occur when firearms are present than if they are absent from the household. Suicide attempts by drugs are only 5 percent lethal and those with firearms are 90 percent lethal."