This Is What Guns Do

Today I watched a boy bleed to death.

I watched as a dozen doctors and nurses poked him, ventilated him, poured blood into his veins, sliced open his grotesquely swollen limbs to prevent gangrene.  I watched as, despite their efforts, despite two operations in a few hours, his teenage body continued to hemorrhage beyond repair.  I watched his parents standing outside the room, anxious and tearful. I watched his extended family gathered outside the hospital, holding one another, waiting for word.

This is what guns do.

Yesterday he was just another teenager worrying about all the usual adolescent things.  This morning he got in an argument with another teenager over a phone.  We all know how stupid teenagers can be, and we’ve all done something like that at some point in our lives.  But this time one of them had a gun, and one body lies cold and blue in the morgue, while another is in detention. Two lives destroyed, two families shattered.

This is what guns do.

I am not here to make a political argument, because this isn’t a political problem.  It’s a public health problem: a public health crisis.  If that boy, and the tens of thousands of others that meet a similar fate every year in this country, had bled to death from Ebola no one would hesitate to acknowledge that.  It’s made out to be a political problem because a few truly evil people (I’m talking to you, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre), cynically manipulate genuine concerns about the balance between public well being and constitutional rights.  But facing public health threats always requires such a balance.  Tobacco, automobile crashes, polio – all of these were addressed by reasonable, common sense restrictions on rights, in the form of requirements (you must wear a seat belt, you must get immunized) and prohibitions (you may not buy cigarettes if you are under 16, you may not drive above the speed limit), which have been readily accepted by the public.

We will continue to see thousands of people die by murder or suicide, and many thousands more wounded, until gun violence is seen as a health crisis.  More people need to see what I did this morning.  We need to stop letting Wayne LaPierre set the agenda.  Instead, we need a Mamie Till.

When Mamie’s son Emmett was brutally tortured and lynched in Mississippi in 1955, she insisted that the world needed to see what she saw.  His battered corpse was on view in an open casket funeral attended by hundreds and shown in newspapers around the world.  Racial violence was no longer an abstraction that could be glossed over.  It was a raw, ugly reality not only to its victims, but to the entire public.  It was a key moment in spurring the civil rights movement.

Sadly, the death I watched didn’t even make the news.  After all, there isn’t enough room in the papers to report on every person felled by a gun.  But crime still sells, and there are plenty of media items about gun violence.  In the wake of recent mass shootings, the New York Times ran its first front page editorial in almost a century.  That won’t do it.  People don’t need to be convinced, they need to be shocked out of complacency.  We need to stop showing photos of the perpetrators, or grainy high school yearbook pictures of the victims.  We need to show graphic, gruesome images.  Family survivors need to do what Mamie Till did – make everyone share your horror and grief.  Everyone needs to see what guns really do.

18 Responses to This Is What Guns Do

  1. PAR says:

    Nailed it Marc. I think Emmett Till was on the cover of Jet magazine. We need pictures of dead children on the cover of the NYT and probably more effectively–People magazine. Words don’t work.

  2. Diana says:

    I worry that if a guy walking into an elementary school and shooting children is not enough to change policy, then nothing is. But it does not mean we stop trying. Well put.

  3. John Kryger says:

    Powerful! Well done

  4. Thank you for this. Our country needs to hear from first responders and ER personnel about what it really means to respond to a shooting.

  5. Dave says:

    Way to go doc! Another over-educated elitist talking about surrendering our rights to the government. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Because you were very sadly unsuccessful at saving that kid we should all support to change the constitution or outright violate it. The second amendment is not about public health, sir. It’s about suppressing a tyrannical government. Please stick to writing about topics involving medicine. Thanks!

    • Sure, Dave. Let’s just all continue to shoot each other up and say it’s awesome.

    • Becki says:

      Dr. Gorelick is not trying to take your guns. He’s trying to help people understand the ripple effect of how gun violence affects ALL of us. This issue is most definitely a medical issue when we use medicine & medical staff to try to save victims of gun violence. You have no idea how gut wrenching it is to be in the trauma bay trying to save someone’s child when they are critically ill. Your comments are mean spirited & uneducated. If you are a father, I sincerely hope you never need our services in that capacity.

      • Actually, while I am inclined to think some regulation of guns makes sense, I am also aware that the relatively sparse evidence lends only modest support for an effect of gun control on firearm deaths, and is somewhat mixed. So I am not specifically advocating for any particular stance on gun regulation. What I am in favor of is using a public health, epidemiologic approach to understanding the factors that make gun related homicide and suicide so prevalent in the US compared with other countries (including many with similar levels of firearm ownership), and then applying those findings whatever they may be. However, as Dave’s response illustrates, there is so much emotion around this that discussion becomes challenging.

  6. Joel says:

    I support your compassion for children’s lives. In fact all lives matter. Showing pictures is a great idea. Maybe we can show pictures of some of the millions of murdered babies liberals have killed over the years. Then we can do away with the tools of abortion since that is what murders the babies. Your next article could then talk about the horrors of knives since knives kill too. We can rid the world of knives. Let’s not confront the mental illness behind it all, like that which is behind liberalism. Let’s keep the focus on the tools used. Great wisdom and logic.

  7. Spot on! There’s a reason we don’t see flag draped military coffins anymore: the visual undermined those who desire to continue war.

    Visuals of the results of gun violence could indeed turn the tide.

  8. Rose Airola says:

    What a horrible, terrible loss for the family. And how awful for the medical staff that worked so tirelessly to try and save that boy’s life. But let’s be clear- guns don’t kill people. People kill people. People making choices kill people. Blaming a gun for this death is like blaming the car a drunk was driving before killing a family of 5.

    This is not what guns do. This, sadly, is what people do. This is what a person did. Until this community takes a stand against this violence and this behavior, no amount of legislation will change anything.

    Prayers for this child, his family, and all who provided him care.

    • Michelle says:

      Actually, guns do kill people. The only purpose of a gun is to kill, whether it kills people or animals that are hunted for food. Comparing a gun to a car is a false comparison as the car was designed to be a mode of transportation, the fact that it can be the cause of death does not change its primary purpose. The gun was designed to be an instrument of death. It has no other purpose.

  9. Anneliese says:

    Thank you for writing this! It is so important to hear from the frontlines. Maybe you could work to ensure all CHW physicians ask about guns in the home at appointments? I noticed last week that the topic wasn’t included on the safety handout we got at our well child checkup and our ped didn’t bring it up. These children are getting their hands on adults’ firearms. Secure gun storage is so important to prevent accidental AND intentional childhood shootings, as well as suicides.

  10. Terry says:

    This is a very important topic and I thank Dr Gorelick for discussing it. This is very clearly a public health issue. The easy availability of guns in the USA makes gun related injuries and deaths increasingly likely. According to the CDC, each year greater than 32,000 people die due to gun related violence and accidents in this country. This is far more than other industrialized countries. The gun violence is becoming so frequent that many feel a sense of apathy when it happens. To say it’s not a public health issue is akin to burying ones head into the sand.

  11. Very well put. Thanks Marc!

  12. Russel Bedalov says:

    The Supreme Court has made mistakes in the past. I suspect they will make mistakes in the future.
    And when it comes to this subject I respectfully submit, that the Supreme Court has made a grievous error in their interpretation of the second amendment.
    How can the first four words of the second amendment hold less value than other segments of the second amendment?
    A well regulated militia …..,
    After all they are the first four words. Do you mean to tell me that if those four words were placed in the second segment or third segment of the second amendment they would hold more value?
    Common sense dictates that the first segment is most important.
    The second segment is second most important.
    And the third segment is third most important.
    How the Supreme Court got this one wrong is beyond me.
    As a refresher, to show that the Supreme Court does get things wrong and periodically needs to revisit questions of the day: The Supreme Court ruled one time that people were property.
    Oh yeah, I’d say they got that one wrong.
    Glad they revisited that one.
    Might be time to resist the second amendment.

  13. Russel Bedalov says:

    Historically speaking, it is a well-known fact that the Supreme Court has made mistakes.
    As proof, I offer the Supreme Court ruling that made people noncitizens, or in the eyes of some, property.
    Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857),
    I respectfully submit that the Supreme Court has made a grievous mistake in its interpretation of the second amendment.
    How it is even possible to ignore or demote the importance of the first four words of the second amendment, I will never know. “A well regulated Militia, …..
    Isn’t it common sense that the first four words are the most important?
    The second set of words are (bad grammar) second most important?
    The third set of words are (more bad grammar) third most important?
    And the fourth set of words are (even more bad grammar) the fourth most important?
    What? Had the first four words been in the second group, or third group, or fourth group they would carry more weight? They are the first four words. How could they possible be demoted?
    I am not holding my breath. But maybe, just maybe, it is time to revisit the second amendment.
    After all, the Supreme Court has been known to make mistakes

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