Gun control is a subject about which reasonable people may differ. Perhaps we can all agree, however, on the importance of respecting guns and avoiding firearm-related accidents.
I was reminded of gun safety by the recent shooting death of a Santa Rosa youth who was walking down a street with a plastic assault weapon toy, only to be gunned down by a sheriff’s deputy who mistook the toy as a real gun.
My 10-year-old son’s desire to eventually attend the Air Force Academy also got me thinking about firearms. He became an enthusiast, with regard to guns and planes, seemingly overnight.
Although I tried to teach him a few things about gun safety, I realized that I was not really up to the task in terms of my own knowledge. So we elected to take a gun safety course together.
It turned out to be a great investment of time and energy. Our teachers were expert marksmen and security experts, with extensive training and credentials. We met at a private gun range.
In the course of a couple of days, we learned how to load, unload and fire handguns and rifles. We employed hearing and vision protection. By the end of the course, we had been exposed to a variety of rifles, from the .22-caliber Remington Score Master, to a military-style M-4. Similarly, we learned about handguns, from a .22-caliber Smith & Wesson, to the more powerful 9mm Glock.
To be sure, a couple of days on a course does not render one an expert. But we learned a lot.
Safely interacting with weapons was a consistent theme.
Medical societies, by and large, take a dim view of firearms. A study in Annals of Internal Medicine by Butkun, published this year, reported that 85 percent of internists view firearms as a public health issue, and 76 percent favor stricter gun control legislation.
The Journal of Trauma, in an article by Hepburn published in 2006, cited declining rates of accidental death due to firearms among children. Child access prevention laws were cited as contributing to this decline, and the authors suggested felony prosecution of those who did not safeguard their weapons from child access.
Betz, writing in Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America, in 2007, cited accidental injury as the No. 1 cause of death from age 1 to 44 years in the United States.
Falls, motor vehicle accidents, drownings and shootings were specifically cited as areas of concern. As recently as 1998, 19 percent of American families reported having a loaded and unlocked gun in their house. Homicide is the No. 1 cause of death among African-Americans ages 10 to 24 years, and ranks No. 2 among Hispanics in that age group.
There is no doubt, therefore, that emergency physicians, trauma surgeons and public health advocates may legitimately harbor concern with regard to guns in American society. The role of legislation in addressing these concerns remains a matter of debate.
Speaking for myself only, I think teaching my son how to handle firearms in a respectful manner was a good idea. In a similar manner, we taught our kids to be safe around water when they were quite young, as drowning is a leading cause of accidental death in young children.
Women, I am told, are under-represented in the gun-shooting community. My wife and I are considering whether a similar gun training course for my daughter and her might, therefore, make some sense. Ultimately, however, these are family decisions. I am not advocating for any particular course of action, nor for any specific political position.
This limited experience at a gun range reminds me, in a humbling way, of the old adage, “The more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know.”
Scott T. Anderson, M.D. (email [email protected]), is a clinical professor at UC Davis Medical School. This column is informational and does not constitute medical advice.