Physician Janette Sherman on US gun mania

by Janette D. Sherman, M.D.

On Oct. 3, yesterday, U.S. forces shot up the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, run by Doctors Without Borders, killing 12 staff and seven patients. This news upset me greatly.

Gun-shoppers-at-Nation’s-Gun-Show-Dulles-Expo-Center-Chantilly-Va.-100315-by-Jabin-Botsford-Wash-Post-300x199, Physician Janette Sherman on US gun mania, National News & Views
On Oct. 3, shoppers examine handguns during the Nation’s Gun Show at the Dulles Expo and Conference Center in Chantilly, Va., the first major gun show since the mass shooting Thursday in Oregon – pushing back against blame placed on gun mania. – Photo: Jabin Botsford, Washington Post

U.S. military personnel can remotely direct drones to kill whatever target they want to hit thousands of miles away.

Americans have developed an amazing killing ability. So far this year in the U.S., guns accounted for some 39,000 “incidents” – 10,000-plus deaths and nearly 20,000 wounded. Guns kill the majority of young murder victims, with African American youths at twice the risk.

This last week, 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer killed nine people and wounded nine at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. He had a total of 14 weapons, all purchased from a federally licensed dealer by him or his relatives. If you estimate the low end cost of a weapon at $500, one has to ask how did they come up with some $7,000 to buy guns?

The Washington Post reported today about the current gun show that is held seven weekends a year at the Dulles Expo Center, in Chantilly, Va., where approximate 270 exhibitors sell 100,000 guns. One attendee was quoted as saying: “We just have a more violent culture. It’s sad and tragic, but there’s no way to prevent it.” A violent culture indeed, with seven times more gun killings than Canada and 71 times more than Britain.

Americans have developed an amazing killing ability.

Think about this area of northern Virginia, within biking distance of our nation’s capital. Fairfax County had a population of about 1,131,000 as of 2013 and is about twice that of the entire state of Wyoming. So where in this area can you shoot a gun and not cause harm?

A friend commented on the large protective force when Pope Francis was in D.C. That’s because this is a dangerous area. Photos of the Pope in Cuba and South America show him walking without the heavy garments that would suggest he was wearing body armor. Here in D.C. there were Secret Service agents running alongside his vehicle.

The Washington Post twice recently carried a 20-page advertisement for hunting equipment, including a full page of 14 handguns, selling for between $339.99 and $845.99. There is a second page of “firearms” that look remarkably like military weapons. Ammunition was relatively inexpensive.

In response to the Oregon college shooting, President Obama said, “It is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America.” “Each time this happens, I am going to say that we can actually do something about it, but we’re going to have to change our laws,” the president said. Since President Obama was elected, there have been 933 mass shootings in this country, with almost 300 in this year.

The president called for news organizations to compare the number of Americans killed by terrorism over the past decade with the number who died in gun violence. He noted that the U.S. spends trillions of dollars and has passed myriad laws to protect people from terrorism. “Yet we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how to reduce potential gun deaths. How can that be?” he asked.

In response to the Oregon college shooting, President Obama said, “It is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America.”

Am I a stranger to shooting? Not quite. When in my teens, our neighbor brought out his .22 rifle and his son and I shot at tin cans. The next encounter was when I was an intern at Detroit Receiving Hospital (now called Detroit General Hospital). A girl had been accidently shot in the chest by a classmate who had taken a gun from home and put it in his jacket pocket. She had blue eyes and dark hair and was the same age as my daughter. We could not save her. In distress, I threw up in the sink, and the chief resident sent me home – driven there in a police car. Though I lived and worked in downtown Detroit, I never thought of having a gun.

How are we in the U.S. to deal with this major public health problem, whose cost exceeds $229 billion? That money could buy a lot of food and housing for poor families, pay medical costs for those uninsured, and educate thousands of underserved students.

If terrorists caused nearly 40,000 deaths and injuries, we would demand action. But we don’t demand action. We keep electing the same people who support guns, and we don’t limit or even document the amount of money given to candidates by gun supporters.

We keep electing the same people who support guns, and we don’t limit or even document the amount of money given to candidates by gun supporters.

Janette D. Sherman, M.D., a physician, toxicologist and author, concentrating on chemicals and nuclear radiation that cause cancer and birth defects, is consulting editor for “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature,” a comprehensive presentation of all the available information concerning the health and environmental effects of the low dose radioactive contaminants. Originally published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009 for $150, she has had it republished for wide distribution at only $10. See http://janettesherman.com/books/. Dr. Sherman has worked in radiation and biologic research at the University of California nuclear facility and at the U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory at the Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco. Her primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education and patient awareness. She can be reached at www.janettesherman.com.