In a recent opinion piece, the president of the American Medical Association, Jack Resneck, M.D. asserts that 2 recent shootings support an urgent need to end “firearm violence”. Dr. Resneck seems little aware of doctors’ falling into the trap of being unduly influenced by their most recent patient. He goes on to state that “gun violence” is a “true public health crisis.”
Let’s look at some numbers. The U.S. homicide rate, a statistic that captures all those in which the perpetrators chose a gun as a method, was the same in 2021 as in 2016. Maybe Dr. Resneck would see it as an “extended crisis”. Or how about “protracted crisis” as a designation? So how many homicides were there in 2021? At least 22,900 as best can be determined.
How does this compare to other causes of death? Well, it looks like in 2021 cancer deaths were over 608,000. And heart disease? 693,000. Covid? 460,000. And how about deaths from traffic accidents? 42,915 in 2021 and climbing. These numbers make Dr. Resneck’s concerns look much less of a “crisis.” Yet nobody labels these as “crises”. Dr. Resneck and his colleagues might look closer to home in identifying crises. Annual deaths from medical mistakes have been found to be as high as 250,000 or more. Presumably he and his associates would have expertise of the sort necessary to reduce this astounding number.
International statistics are revealing. Although Dr. Resneck sees a murder “crisis” in the United States, when looking at the world’s countries we’re in the middle of the pack in murder rates, and our rate of 4.9 annually per 100,000 people pales beside that of the leader, El Salvador, with a rate of 52.0.
He goes on to advocate for “safety education programs to promote greater responsibility in the use and storage of firearms.” Now, you might think that this would mean that every high school student should learn hands-on how to safely handle a gun, but you would be wrong. What he and his colleagues have in mind is quite different and includes, in particular, legislation to make it more difficult to purchase and transport a gun, as well as increasing the liability risk for gun manufacturers, which of course would increase the cost to buyers.
The first line of Dr. Resneck’s piece talks about “commonsense and evidence based legislative solutions.” So how about trying to come up with “commonsense and evidence based legislative solutions” to the problem posed by over 42,000 traffic deaths a year? This could save lives without trampling citizen’s Second Amendment rights. Or to the specifically medical profession’s problem of the hundreds of thousands of deaths associated with medical missteps?
There is another problem of quite a different sort with this opinion piece. It is racist. By focusing on a group of homicides at a nightclub and a school it diverts attention from the most numerous victims of homicides through the use of firearms, who are young urban black men. A very recent report again documents the often reported high rate of homicides in Black non-Hispanic men and in urban areas. This grinding tally of deaths receives much less publicity than the episodic shooting with several victims that garners extravagant media attention.
—Thomas E. Gift, MD is a child and adolescent psychiatrist practicing in Rochester, New York, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical School, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.