“Guns!! Guns!! Guns!!”—A Creepy Reminder From the Archives of Surgery

By Timothy Wheeler, MD

Dr. Tim Wheeler

Dr. Tim Wheeler

The public health assault on gun owners is nothing new. The talking points delivered on cue by today’s public health gun prohibitionists are taken from the pioneers, though anti-gunners have now learned to soften them in deference to a public that increasingly supports the civil right of gun ownership.

This medical journal article was written in 1980 by Lester Adelson, MD, an academic medical examiner. At the time, violent urban crime was taking off and gun prohibitionists talked freely of banning guns. It was reprinted in a 1992 issue of the Archives of Surgery (now known as JAMA Surgery), one of the medical journals under the banner of the fervently anti-gun rights Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA.

To Adelson’s credit, he admitted that guns are used for legitimate self defense. But then he quickly demolished his own observation by embarking on what can best be called a rant with footnotes (including the title of this entry, seriously).

He threw in some shabby talk-show psychology about guns being a stand-in for male sexual inadequacy. Such a carny spectacle has no place in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Sadly, political activism infected the editorial ranks of medical journals in the 1990s and has festered there ever since. Here are some of the myths Adelson presented in his adrenaline-fueled binge:

Lester Adelson, MD (clevelandmagazine.com)

Lester Adelson, MD

“The majority of American homicides, however, are committed by law-abiding people who know and frequently ‘love’ each other, and who express aggression in this explosive manner.” “The killers are ‘typical Americans’…” “The accessibility of a firearm permits the instantaneous metamorphosis of a law-abiding (hot-headed?) person into a murderer.”

“Guns create feelings of self-esteem, permitting even the least potent to join ‘The Superman Club.’ As part of its ‘magical’ power, a firearm is ‘a key which can unlock any door.’ With it, the misguided possessor believes that he can go anywhere and have everything he wants.”

These assumptions are still gospel to gun banners, who see the firearm as a disease-causing agent capable of acting on its own, an evil talisman with magic powers.

Since Adelson’s time, criminology research and political experience with concealed carry laws have shown something very different—violent criminals are not at all like normal people. They have a lifelong history of violence, armed or unarmed, against the people around them. On the other hand, a decent, law-abiding person does not change into an amoral, vicious criminal when she takes on the responsibility of owning a firearm for self defense.

By today’s standards Dr. Adelson sounds like the well-meaning but angry demagogue that he was. We know better nowadays. There is hope for freedom after all.


Dr. Tim Wheeler

—Timothy Wheeler, MD is director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.

All DRGO articles by Timothy Wheeler, MD.