Sunday, December 6, 2015

Gun Violence is a Disease

Tired of seeing gun violence victims in the emergency room, Dr. Garen Wintemute of the UC-Davis School of Medicine has "joined the ranks of gun control advocates trying to stop the carnage by getting criminals' guns off the streets." But Wintemute has taken a unique approach: he addresses gun violence as a public health problem. He said, "If we were talking about an infection as opposed to a bullet, and we had 30,000 to 40,000 deaths a year, no one would question whether this was a health problem." Wintermute, a "one-man band who is a professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine, a practicing emergency room doctor and director of his own Violence Prevention Resource Program," has assembled, interpreted and published statistics and facts on gun violence, testified before Congress three times and in 1997 was named one of 15 "heroes of medicine" by Time magazine. His message is that "guns need to be made safer to prevent unintentional tragedies, and their access made as difficult as possible for the perpetrators of intentional ones." Instead of outlawing guns completely, Wintemute wants to "stop or reduce the chances of injury-by-gunshot occurring in the first place." But he says there is "no one thing" that will prevent such occurrences, and instead pushes for a comprehensive approach that includes restricting how many guns can be purchased, reducing the number of inexpensive guns and using computer data to identify gun dealers that sell to criminals (Vanzi, California Journal, 3/00 issue). This was written by Max Vanzi for the California Journal in March 2000.

Here's what Dr. Wintermute said in an interview with Frontline on the gun industry in California. He was asked why he got into advocating for research into gun violence.

Most of the people who die after being shot never even make it to an emergency department. They die where they're shot.

"I'm an ER doc. I practice emergency medicine, and I used to do it full time. It occurred to me as it does to many people in that specialty that it's not enough just to treat trauma. We need to prevent it. And that's particularly the case with regard to firearm trauma, gunshot wounds. And here's why.
Even in these days, in big cities with regionalized fancy trauma systems, most of the people who die after being shot never even make it to an emergency department. They die where they're shot. And of those people who do make it into the emergency medical system, a trauma team and all of that, of those who die, better than 95% die within the first 24 hours. And what that says to me and to a lot of other people is that we're probably already saving pretty much all the lives we're going to be able to say through advances in medical care. And if we want to expand our ability to save people from dying from a gunshot wound, we need to keep them from getting shot in the first place. And that's why so many people in emergency medicine and trauma are involved in the prevention side as well as the treatment side."

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