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When Will Doctors Figure Out a Disease Called 'Gun Violence?'

After the Sandy Hook massacre at the end of 2012, all of the medical organizations and academies felt it incumbent upon themselves to issue some kind of statement about gun violence. And now, more than ten years after that horrendous event in Newtown, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued an official Policy Statement: Firearm-Related Injuries and Deaths in Children and Youth: Injury Prevention and Harm Reduction, which you can read here.

Let me be as blunt and candid as I can be, okay? If the professional organizations which represent the medical community had been as opaque, senseless, and incorrect about Covid-19 as the AAP is now positioning itself in relation to gun violence, we would still be in the midst of a pandemic rather than seeing life getting back to normal following the initial appearance of that disease.

When it comes to gun violence, on the other hand, the ‘new’ normal is just like the ‘old’ normal, with the 45,000 or so intentional gun deaths becoming not only what we have gotten used to each year, but what will continue to occur if statements like the AAP statement on gun violence are taken seriously and become the basis for how medicine tries to deal with this uniquely American disease.

How does the AAP suggest we deal with gun violence? By applying “the principles of the Haddon matrix for injury prevention to develop a multipronged approach for pediatric firearm injury prevention at the individual, household, community, state, and national levels.

What exactly is the Haddon matrix? It’s a research strategy developed by William Haddon, who was the first administrator of the federal agency which ultimately became the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which operates under the Department of Transportation and keeps track of how many Americans smash themselves to bits driving down our roads. The NHTSA also issues those recall notices when a car’s design or equipment turns out to be bad – right now millions of cars are being recalled so that their airbags can be changed.

The whole theory behind the Haddon approach to injuries is the assumption that consumer products like cars and guns can be designed to be more safe. And this strategy is implemented by doing research on how products are used at three different phases in the product’s lifecycle – before it is used, while it is being used, and after it is used. Known as the Haddon Matrix, this is a way to reduce product risk through interventions during all three phases of the product lifecycle, which can be implemented with guns by keeping those products out of the hands of kids, so says the AAP.

Leaving aside the fact that the AAP defines ‘children’ as anyone under the age of 24, even though every state allows anyone to go hunting with a loaded gun above age 14, there is a much more serious issue involving guns which makes using the Haddon Matrix to reduce gun violence not just wrong in terms of results but demonstrates a complete and total lack of knowledge about guns.

If I were to walk into a crowded room with my Glock 17 pistol and several extra hi-cap mags, I could easily kill 30 people in that room in two minutes or less and – ready? – my Glock would be operating exactly as it was designed to operate and to be used. Thank you, but no recall or intervention would be necessary at all.

Why? Because the World Health Organization doesn’t divide the medical problem known as ‘violence’ into ‘good’ violence and ‘bad.’ If I shoot someone with my Glock who otherwise would have hurt me, I have committed an act of gun violence, okay?

The point is that the guns which are used to kill and injure more than 100,000 Americans every year – semi-automatic, bottom-loading pistols chambered for military-grade ammunition - are designed exactly for that purpose, and the United States is the only country in the entire world which allows its residents to purchase, own and carry such products whenever they want. Which is why we have gun violence in this country and other advanced countries do not.

There’s a very simple way to reduce gun violence, which is to get rid of the guns used to commit the violence. And if the AAP would take the trouble to run their policy statements past anyone who knows anything about guns, this is what they would be told.

But physicians aren’t about to let someone without an M.D. degree advise them about what they should say because, after all, doctors think they rely on ‘evidence-based’ research, even when the research has absolutely nothing to do with the health problem they need to solve.

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