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OTHER VOICES: Doctors push back against NRA

November 17, 2018

More than 30,000 Americans are killed by firearms annually, far more than in any other industrialized nation. To anyone not in the thrall or the pocket of the National Rifle Association, the cause is clear: America also has far more guns per capita than any industrialized nation, and far looser gun laws. It’s why our streets, schools and places of worship are so often engulfed in carnage.

Doctors wade into that carnage daily, treating wounds most of us couldn’t look at. They treat the bodies torn open by unrestricted military-style rifles, the multiple wounds caused by legally purchased high-capacity magazines, the dying children who had come across inadequately stored handguns.

Then they peel off their blood-caked gowns, turn on the TV and see some Washington lackey obediently parroting the NRA line that guns aren’t the problem. No wonder doctors are urging us to address America’s gun epidemic as the public health crisis it is — which should include lifting Congress’ outrageous funding ban on federal gun-violence research.

When the American College of Physicians recently made that and other points in a position paper, the NRA countered with a browbeating essay telling these lifesaving doctors they have no business commenting on an issue that spills blood on their feet every day.

In case that wasn’t tone-deaf enough, the NRA’s Twitter account then announced that “self-important” doctors should “stay in their lane.”

This has spurred a massive, potentially transformative push-back from doctors and their supporters. With the Twitter hashtag #ThisIsOurLane and others, they’re telling their stories in graphic detail, spotlighting what the NRA has wrought with its relentless campaign to prevent sanity in U.S. gun policy. They’ve posted pictures of their bloody gowns and masks, expounded on the types of wounds they’ve had to treat, and educated the public about what happens when a bullet enters a body.

Most effectively, they’ve put human faces on this national tragedy. “Hey @NRA!” tweeted one, with a picture of an empty chair in a hospital. “Wanna see my lane? Here’s the chair I sit in when I tell parents their kids are dead. How dare you tell me I can’t research evidence-based solutions.”

In fact, that’s what the NRA’s congressional lapdogs have been telling doctors for two decades. In 1996, the group pressured Congress to approve the so-called “Dickey amendment” — still in force today — barring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using federal funds to study gun violence. A public health agency, by law, may not address an issue that costs ten of thousands of lives a year.

Now the NRA is telling the men and women whose job is to stanch the blood that they should, in essence, just shut up and sew. Doctors should harness the public outrage over this, and lobby anew to finally remove federal funding restrictions on gun-violence research.

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