GUNS DON’T KILL, PEOPLE DO !, By Dr. Leonard Sowah

Dr. Vivek Murthy Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 government and politics gun control injury prevention politics and health societal change Surgeon General

“Guns don’t kill, people do”, the gun lobby has been touting this mantra for years in the United States whilst our numbers on gun violence continues to rise. Studies however show a very strong correlation between gun ownership and gun violence. Currently in the US research on the impact of guns on homicides and suicides is poorly funded since public funding for such research has been limited significantly by legislation driven mainly by lobbies mostly funded by the NRA (National Rifle Association).I have no problems with gun ownership and respect the rights of Americans to own guns. In 1993 Kellerman and his colleagues published their research on the risk of gun ownership. This study which was funded by CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) revealed that having a gun in the home led to higher likelihood of gun violence against a family member, friend or loved one.The common reason most individuals get guns is for protection against home invasions. The research however revealed that these guns that are supposed to protect us from intruders end up killing those we love. That was the main message from the Kellerman study. This research which was published by the New England Journal of Medicine (N. Engl. J Med 1993; 32: 1084 – 91) was too much for the NRA.

Three years after this research was published congress passed a measure drafted by then Representative from the 4th Congressional District in Southwestern Arkansas, the late Jay Dickey limiting Center for Disease Control & Prevention’s (CDC) ability to spend funds “to advocate or promote gun control”. The NRA hoped to eradicate the injury center entirely but actually ended up achieving more than they expected.  Whilst this should not prevent CDC from funding studies on the impact of guns on violence its impact was very far reaching, the National Center for Injury Control and Prevention was closed down and its director Mark Rosenberg lost his job. Mark Rosenberg is still a strong advocate for research on gun violence and is currently the CEO of the Task Force for Global Health a not for profit working to improve health in developing countries.

a Sig Sauer MCX .223
A Sig Sauer MCX .223 – One of the guns used by the Orlando night club shooter

Last week President Trump asked Dr. Murthy the Surgeon General appointed by the Obama Administration to resign. Among all his attributes Dr. Vivek Murthy has been a strong supporter of gun control and his confirmation was stalled in the senate mostly on that account. Dr. Murthy had signed a letter in 2012 by Doctors for America which he founded in 2009 calling for gun control legislation.  Fortunately he stood his ground on this issue reinforcing the need for American to follow a prevention based culture with regards to health with the inclusion of gun control. The Orlando Pulse club gun man had two guns a Sig Sauer MCX .223 which takes an AR-15 magazine with 30 rounds of ammunition and a Glock G17 with 17 round of ammunition.  What this means it that such a gun man can fire 47 shots before he needs to reload. In a crowded night club this is a disaster, he killed 49 people and wounded 53.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 included limits regarding magazines that could hold more than ten rounds unfortunately this ban expired in September 2004. Since the ban expired due to a sunset provision in the law some reports suggest the average number of deaths in mass shooting has increased.

Glock 17
Glock 17 a hand gun that carries 17 rounds of ammunition used by the Orlando night club shooter

I wonder whether Dr. Murthy’s clear and open support for gun control has anything to do with his removal from office before the end of his term. If that is the case I am worried about where we are going as a nation.  Surely a Surgeon General should be able to voice his concern on the impact of guns on our society.

We cannot respect any part of the constitution over another but I personally would give a lot more weight to the first Amendment than to the Second. We should however be careful in the manner in which we use either of these rights because as we are aware they can both kill and must be handled with care.

 Dr. Leonard Sowah is an internal medicine physician in Baltimore, Maryland 

Feature photo: Dr. Arthur L Kellerman who authored the landmark article linking gun-violence to gun deaths


A physician providing primary medical care to patients across the lifespan