I am an emergency medicine physician working in a Level 1 trauma center in Philadelphia — a city that sees a shooting, on average, every six hours. That makes it one of America’s most dangerous cities.
In this city, I see a lot of trauma. You can imagine why I don’t often talk about my job with friends and family outside the medical community. The grisly environment of the emergency room, and stories of people experiencing the worst days of their lives, just doesn’t seem like good dinner-table conversation.
I don’t talk about the countless victims of gun violence I’ve seen, predominantly black and usually far too young. I don’t talk about how these victims are brought in, riddled with bullet holes hidden underneath layers of bloody clothes. I don’t talk about the grown men and women I’ve treated—their blood pressures dropping, crying out for family, saying they feel as if they’re going to die.
Many times, they are right.
Many times, they do.
I don’t talk about the trauma surgeons, sweating underneath lead aprons and layers of personal protective equipment, cutting open chests in the emergency department — there’s no time for the operating room, the patient would die in the elevator. I don’t talk about the eerie silence after time of death is called, as monitors are turned off and tubes are disconnected. I don’t talk about helping load yet another dead victim of gun violence into the van of the medical examiner. I don’t talk about the brave nurses, techs, and doctors who are allowed little time to reflect and mourn. The next “GSW” — gunshot wound — is already on the way in.
I don’t talk about the families, especially the mothers, who must now come to terms with unspeakable tragedy. I hear their screams of sorrow from all corners of the department, wrestling with the eventuality of burying their own children. I see the look in mothers’ eyes when they’re told they can see, but they cannot touch, their deceased loved ones.
Doctors are trained to move on, but we are shaken, too. The faces of the deceased, and the screams of their families, haunt me as I lie awake late at night, as sleep eludes me. They haunt us all.
But my silence is nothing compared with that of our lawmakers — of both parties — whose “thoughts and prayers” are shallow excuses for inaction. They cling to religion to comfort themselves and others. We can only hope that one day St. Peter will laugh in their faces as he gently nudges them out of the clouds. Heaven is already too full with the young victims of gun violence.
We need to talk about the AR-15, a modified military rifle designed to kill as many people as possible. That was the gun used to kill three adults and 14 children in Florida on Feb. 14. An AR-15 has no purpose in the defense of a home. It has no purpose in hunting. Its only role is in the hands of trained and uniformed military or law enforcement personnel.
To be sure, reducing gun access for those with mental-health issues is a start. But make no mistake: The scourge of gun violence in this country is about guns. As Parkland high schooler and survivor Emma Gonzalez bravely said, “He wouldn’t have hurt that many students with a knife.”
A physician goes through a decade of training and multiple background checks before being allowed to prescribe a controlled substance that could be deadly. But in many states, firearms can be purchased in days.
A physician prescribes proven and tested treatments, but the same standard is not expected of our lawmakers. Too many ignore the evidence in front of them — refusing to acknowledge that the states with the most gun laws also have the fewest gun deaths.
The evidence tells us: All gun purchases should undergo a standard background check. Criminals convicted of a violent crime should be barred from future gun purchases. The sale of semiautomatic and large-capacity assault weapons should be forbidden. And if you’re too young to buy a beer, you should be barred from buying a deadly weapon. Yet, time and time again, these solutions are ignored.
As someone sworn to save lives — regardless of our background or beliefs — I wonder: Are reasonable solutions to gun violence too much to ask to save the lives of children?
I know, for a fact, that I will see another victim of gun violence soon. I’ll assess the patient, examine the urgency, and use every possible solution to save that life. It would be malpractice to do otherwise.
Lawmakers should look at the scourge of guns the same way. Because with their inaction, our lawmakers coldly condone a crisis that only they can fix.
Dr. Gregory Siegel is a senior emergency medicine resident physician working in Philadelphia.