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Moment for Silence or Action?

I have been, as have many Americans and people around the world, shocked and grieved by the violent assault in Orlando, Florida, this week that left death and injury, fear and mayhem, in its wake. I was able to attend a community vigil held at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland last night, and the outpouring of hurt, hope and support were moving. But I was perhaps most moved, during these several days after the shooting, with the words and actions of Connecticut Representative Jim Himes (D-Ct) who refused to attend one more Congressional moment of silence and re-committed himself to establishing a saner and safer gun policy.

Our main obstacle in the effort for safe gun legislation is of course the National Rifle Association, the NRA. I have two major beefs with the NRA and they both concern what I think is absolutely pig-headed stupidity on the part of absolutely blind and blanket support of anything that might relate to the Second Amendment. We can talk later about handguns and rifles, but these blind sports are just plain stupid.

Thirty years ago when I was starting as a physician, one of the "radical" questions I was encouraged to ask in my training was whether or not people wore seat belts in the car. I took that opportunity to start a discussion about the science that had amassed at that point in absolute favor of people wearing seat belts. Yes, there is the rare occurrence when someone is saved without a seat belt, but when it comes to planning your own health or advising public health, you have to go with the odds, the likelihood. The odds are overwhelming in your favor if you wear a seat belt in the car. We knew that because of research, and I was able to share that with my patients in conversation. The NRA unfathomably, to me, has blockaded both federal research dollars going to gun research and been instrumental in attempts to thwart doctors discussing gun safety with their patients. Meanwhile, toddlers have shot at least 23 people in the US this year, and I would like to discuss gun safety with all families, and especially those with young children. The toddlers did not buy the guns, someone thoughtlessly left the guns in the reach of the toddler...uh, obviously. Thankfully, Oregon will never get so crazy with what doctors talk about, right?

My second beef is with the NRA's position urging its members and the congressmen in its pocket to resist sanity's attempt to block the sale of assault weapons. No one needs an assault weapon for defense of their home and if they're using it for hunting, sorry: they're idiots. Although assault weapon murders account for only a small fraction of gun-related deaths, they are the least predictable and the most frightening. They levy the heaviest burden on law enforcement and medical responders, and the guns serve no reasonable purpose in a modern society. 

So our response to this tragedy can be in two parts, our grieving and our re-commitment to what makes all of us safer and our country a stronger nation. For me, that means a commitment to the collective support for gender equality in all forms and most pointedly today, support for a saner and safer discussion and policy of human rights and the risks associated with guns.