“I see more gunshot wounds as a trauma surgeon here in the United States per week than I did when I was serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan,” says Dr. Mallory Williams, chief of the Division of Trauma and Critical Care at Howard University Hospital. “There’s no question about it.”
In a new Atlantic short documentary, American Trauma: How the NRA Sparked a Medical Rebellion, Dr. Williams and other esteemed trauma surgeons explain how the severity—and, frequently, fatality—of gunshot-related injuries has galvanized the medical community to take action against gun violence. However, in many ways, their hands are tied: In 1996, Congress passed an amendment—lobbied for by the National Rifle Association—that prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using federal funds to “advocate or promote gun control.” This includes conducting government-sponsored research on the effects of gun violence.
In the film, Dr. Joseph Sakran, director of emergency general surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, laments the fact that the NRA has effectively succeeded in enforcing its “stay in your lane” position on doctors and gun policy. “Trying to provide the care that those patients need after they’ve been shot is not enough,” Dr. Sakran says. “There are some injuries that we see that despite the best medical technology, we’re not able to save those patients. So the way you save those patients is to prevent [the injuries] from ever happening in the first place … We have to do more.”
The doctors interviewed in the film emphasize what they perceive to be the nonpartisan nature of the gun-violence epidemic, which they often refer to as a public-health crisis. Dr. Williams likens the responsibility he feels to take action to the role the medical community played in affecting policy decisions about tobacco regulation and drinking and driving. “I find this to be a logical continuum that the gun discussion would include a medical voice,” he says.
“This is not a Democratic issue. It’s not a Republican issue,” Dr. Sakran says. “This is an American issue. And it’s a uniquely American problem.”
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