“When guns came into existence, so too did the natural right to a fair and reasonable defense against them.” —R. A. Delmonico
I am a gun owner. I own quite a few pistols for defense and a number of rifles, slug guns and black powder rifles for hunting. I enjoy hunting and going to the range to practice accuracy. I have always qualified as “expert” when I needed to demonstrate proficiency with a weapon to deploy. I instructed my three daughters from a very early age about what guns were. Later, when they were ready, I taught them gun safety and how to shoot.
I do not own any assault-style weapons, special sights, 30-round magazines or “bump” stocks. From my time in the military, I recognized these weapons and accessories as existing for the purpose of warfare, designed solely for eliminating the enemy with great efficiency. In my life, I have handled weapons of war in defense of this country, and I am proud of that fact. I feel I have a right to own guns for sport shooting and hunting within this society with specific and clearly defined regulatory limits. There is no reasonable argument for needing an automatic weapon and 30 rounds in the magazine for hunting. If you can make that argument for yourself, you suck at hunting.
Like many Americans, I have been shocked and dismayed at the seemingly endless tragedy of mass shootings at schools and business in this country. Granted, these heartbreaking catastrophes are usually perpetrated by deranged males, although the fact that they rely on assault-style rifles outfitted with gadgets to increase lethality of the weapons to inflict mass murder cannot and should not be ignored. Technological improvements in assault weapons have increased the ability of one individual to take many human lives in a shockingly contracted space of time. Additionally, these improvements in gun lethality have occurred at a rate that has outpaced legislation for their control.
A 2016 study on gun violence published in The American Journal of Medicine found the U.S. gun homicide rate was 25 times higher than the 20 other economically advanced, high-income countries combined.1 Regardless of your position on gun ownership, the fact that we have a serious health problem related to gun-assisted homicide in the United States cannot be overlooked or overstated.
Gun rights proponents, fueled by the financial strength and tremendously successful lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association, would have you believe that any regulation of firearms will place America on the slippery slope to tyranny. There is no shortage of slogans in support of gun ownership, but most boil down to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
This language is often employed to block any gun control legislation as an “infringement” on this established right. I think it is important to understand how and why this amendment was added to the Constitution. When the colonies were struggling for its ratification, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay published a series of 85 essays under the pseudonym “Publius” to explain and engender support for the new constitutional government. Later, this collection of essays would be referred to as “The Federalist Papers.” The 29th essay in this collection, produced by Alexander Hamilton, was titled “Concerning the Militia.” It was within this essay that Hamilton outlined the need for an armed citizenry in service to the states for a “well regulated Militia” to provide public defense and serve as a check to federal power.
Remember, the colonies had just thrown off the yoke of oppression represented by the British monarchy, and most Americans were—and have remained—very sensitive to too much centralized power in government. In this context, gun ownership was assumed to be part of a citizen’s responsibility in support of the Militia. The key statement, in my opinion, is a “well regulated militia.” As a reminder, the term “regulate” means to “control or supervise by means of rules and regulations.” Hamilton obviously had no insight into the power of modern assault rifles, and I feel it is clear that he assumed the armed citizenry would be regulated. If this short history lesson is accurate (and it is), why are current government leaders so afraid of gun regulation when this was the intent of our Founding Fathers and the Constitution?
I realize this is a political hot potato, and many readers are likely wondering what this has to do with federal medicine. I will explain myself with the following: I have been dealing with wounds and the wounded of war for my entire professional career. I am schooled in the lethality and damage that assault-style weapons can inflict on the human body. These are weapons of war and have no place in civilized society.
Our society regulates our driving, our marriages, even our pets. These regulations are necessary to prevent the actions of unscrupulous or careless individuals from harming others within our society. Why is it more difficult in this society to get a dog license than it is to get an automatic weapon of war designed for only one purpose—the taking of human life? As medical professionals, I feel we have a responsibility to advocate for the health and safety of our patients in all aspects of their lives. Advocating for better gun regulations and bans for civilian ownership of assault weapons is in the interest of public health. That is my argument, and I recognize many who digest this column will disagree. That is OK; all I have done is exercise my First Amendment right established in the Constitution, my right of free speech, and I will be exercising my right to vote for my elected representatives in the upcoming midterm elections. I recommend you do the same.
1Grinshteyn, Erin, and David Hemenway. “Violent death rates: the U.S. compared with other high-income OECD countries, 2010.” American Journal of Medicine.129.3 (2016): 266-273.