San Antonio Trauma Surgeon Charts a 'Way Forward' in Gun Debate

Dr. Ronald Stewart, an emergency room physician at San Antonio's University Health System, is the lead author of a new study from the American College of Surgeons which seeks to chart a 'path forward' in the increasingly divisive battle over what to do about guns, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Dr. Stewart cared for victims of November's mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, and he wrote the paper in conjunction with an emergency room physician who treated victims of the Las Vegas mass shooting in October of last year.

"We are surgeons who have committed our personal and professional lives to reducing needless suffering from injury," the doctors write in their reports.  "As leaders in the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, we have put our hearts and souls into reducing firearm violence and yet we continue to experience the senseless tragedy of mass shooting events in our communities."

Dr. Stewart says problem number one is 'to overcome political polarization and confirmation bias.'

He says to have gun opponents yelling that the National Rifle Association and it law abiding members are 'child killers,' and to have Second Amendment advocates claiming anti gun violence demonstrators are 'dupes' and 'Communists' may make the advocates feel really good inside, but does no good toward getting us closer to a solution.

"We propose that we work toward a common American narrative, which is that firearms ownership is a liberty which is protected by the U.S. Constitution, but violence is a major cause of death and suffering," he told News Radio 1200 WOAI in an interview.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that in 2016, the last year for which full statistics are available, there were 63,979 'intentional injury deaths,' or an average of 175 deaths per day.  That is more than twice the number of deaths caused by traffic accidents.  In about 75% of those, a firearm was used.

Of those, 70% were suicides and 30% were homicides.  The numbers do not include accidental shootings.

Since 1999 there has been a 17% increase in firearm-related intentional injury death rates, at the same time that traffic related death rates decreased by 22%.Dr. Stewart says any debate over what to do about firearms has to understand that for many Americans, the right to own firearms is seen as beneficial, necessary, and a protected right, and many of these people see efforts at gun restrictions to be 'efforts at freedom restrictions.'

But he says even the strongest Second Amendment advocates agree that statistics like these are too high.

"Both sides abhor the death and injuries created by violence," he said.

So the secret is, how to bring down the number of deaths while making sure the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is in fact not infringed.

"If we work together to make firearms ownership as safe as possible, and work together to reduce the underlying causes of violence."

The paper says every factors went into bring down the number of deaths in traffic accidents, and nobody complained that the rights to drive were being infringed.

The doctors say one key is to treat firearms violence as a public health issue, and not a political issue.

"Violent intentional injury is the most poorly addressed public health problem in America," the paper concludes. "Although complex, there are many readily correctable factors.  The resources to address the problem should match the burden of disease."

The paper says both sides have to stop yelling at each other and 'can and must work together.'

"Both sides agree that a common goal should be to make firearm ownership as safe as reasonably possible," Dr. Stewart said.  "This approach enables partnership opportunities and the power of technology and innovation to reduce injury, death, and disability."

Among the proposals:

1) Firearm ownership is a liberty protected by the U.S. Constitution. However, we can reduce this violence if we all work together to make firearm ownership as safe as reasonably possible,  This means inclusively developing effective solutions using the power of innovation, technology, research, and responsible policy development.

2) Anyone who is a danger to themselves and others should not have a firearm.

3) Safe storage, education, training, and a commitment to keep firearms out of the hands of family members at high risk of self harm, unlawful purchasers, and violence offenders.

4) Mental health access, mental health hygeine and treatment must be improved.

5) We must identify, understand, and address proximate causes of violence.

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