Gun Violence


E.R. Docs and Gun Violence: Emotional Stories of Fatalities ‘Hard to Forget’

By Eric Whitney for Colorado Public Radio and Kaiser Health News 

Denver emergency room physician Chris Colwell (Barry Gutierrez/For KHN)

Denver emergency room physician Chris Colwell (Barry Gutierrez/For KHN)

In Colorado, where more people die from gunshots than car crashes, the victims have a profound effect on the physicians who treat them. For some of the doctors on the front lines, the experiences lead to a strong opposition to guns, questions about gun laws and even activism.

Dr. Chris Colwell, an emergency department physician in Denver, says he sees gun-violence victims on a weekly basis. And when those cases are fatal, they are hard to forget.

“These are the injuries that the [patients] will come in, and they’ll look at me, and they’ll talk to me, and then they’ll die,” says Colwell, who’s been at Denver Health, the city’s biggest public hospital, for 20 years.

“These are the injuries that the (patients) will come in, and they’ll look at me, and they’ll talk to me, and then they’ll die.”
Colwell also treated casualties from two of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. He responded to the scene during the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School where 15 people died. He also treated victims of last July’s movie theater shooting in Aurora, where a dozen were killed and 58 wounded.

Often, Colwell will treat a shooting victim, and then treat the shooter after he or she has been caught by police. Colwell describes a case from a few months ago in which he treated a woman who later died — and then her husband, who fired the gun. Continue reading

Study: As State Gun Laws Go Up, Firearm Deaths Go Down … But Why?

(Photo: Scott Olson)

(Photo: Scott Olson)

In a new review, researchers from Harvard and Boston Children’s Hospital crunched the numbers looking at firearm-related fatalities and firearm legislation across the U.S. Their conclusion: more laws in a state are associated with fewer deaths, across the board — as well as for homicides and suicides individually.

The researchers worked with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence to calculate “legislative strength scores.” The center weights laws according to such factors as background checks on gun sales, permit-to-purchase requirements, and limiting handgun purchases to one a month.

The writers stress their study could not determine cause and effect, and more research is needed.

How many gun laws are there, overall? That’s hard to determine, too, say the authors. From the study:

It is challenging to calculate the exact number of firearm laws: a single law may have multiple parts; laws are potentially passed at the national, state, county, and city level; and there is no repository available for tallying these laws.5 The factoid that there are “20 000 laws governing firearms”5 has been erroneously quoted since 1965, but the most recent and reliable estimate, performed in 1999, counted about 300 state firearm laws.6

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Learning to Live with Guns — Advocates Urge a Public Health Campaign

By Mina Kim

Editor’s note: State lawmakers are expected to hold a joint legislative hearing on guns and gun laws Tuesday. 

Sandra Macias of Fairfield looks at posters she's made over the years for marches and rallies demanding more gun control. In 1995, Macias's 14-year-old son Alex Stasenka was shot and killed accidentally by the brother of a friend of his. (Photo/Mina Kim)

Sandra Macias of Fairfield looks at posters she’s made for marches and rallies demanding more gun control. In 1995, Macias’s 14-year-old son Alex Stasenka was accidentally shot and killed. (Photo/Mina Kim)

Remember those ads from the early 1990s that encouraged people to intervene if a friend who had been drinking was about to get behind the wheel? ‘When friends don’t stop friends from drinking and driving, friends die. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.’

Researchers believe this type of public health campaign that was successful at reducing motor vehicle fatalities could also be used to reduce the number of gun deaths and injuries, including suicides. David Hemenway is a professor of health policy at Harvard and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

“What we want to be able to do is figure out a way to live with our guns. Right now we are dying with our guns.”
“It’s the notion ‘friends don’t let friends drive drunk’, ‘friends don’t let friends who are going through a bad patch have easy access to a gun,’” Hemenway said. “If a close friend you can see has just got a divorce, he’s started drinking, he’s started talking crazy, try to figure out a way to get the gun out of the house for a few months until things get better.” Continue reading

After Surviving Shooting, Oakland Youth Works to Prevent Violence

Caheri Gutierrez, before the shooting.

Caheri Gutierrez, before the shooting.

Last weekend was an especially violent one, even for Oakland. On Friday, four people were killed, and over the rest of the weekend, 11 people were shot, though not fatally. There were 126 homicides [PDF] in Oakland last year, cementing the city’s distinction as one of California’s more violent urban centers. Oakland certainly doesn’t have a lock on gun violence. Other cities like Stockton are struggling, too. But the situation in Oakland has been going on for some time now, and locals are giving a lot of thought to what it means to live under the constant threat of violence.

As part of KQED’s occasional series, “What’s Your Story,” Oakland native Caheri Gutierrez (pronounced “Carrie”) shares her story about working with at-risk high schools students after she herself was shot in the face as a teenager. Guiterrez is a Violence Prevention Educator for Youth Alive, an Oakland non-profit with a mission to prevent youth violence. Below are excerpts of my conversation with her:

“‘They shot you. They shot you.’ I touched my face and my hand just went inside of my face.”

“I was just in the car and all of a sudden I started to feel like I was getting electrified. It was really intense shocks from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. The guy that was driving, my friend, starts screaming that he’s been shot. Continue reading

President Obama Ends Research Freeze on Gun Violence

(Image: Kaiser Health News)

We think of the Centers for Disease Control as collecting data on just about everything. But scientists say a lack of funding and political pressure had long prevented them from researching gun violence. And not just the possible causes of violence — but data collection around specific acts of violence.

On Wednesday, the president addressed the need to look for those causes in his proposals to curb gun violence. In a section [PDF] titled “End the Freeze on Gun Violence Research,” the president directs the CDC to research gun violence and also wants Congress to pony up $20 million to expand the national database on violent deaths.

“We don’t benefit from ignorance,” Obama said. “We don’t benefit from not knowing the science from this epidemic of violence.”

From the president’s plan:

… for years, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other scientific agencies have been barred by Congress from using funds to “advocate or promote gun control,” and some members of Congress have claimed this prohibition also bans the CDC from conducting any research on the causes of gun violence. However, research on gun violence is not advocacy; it is critical public health research that gives all Americans information they need.

“People have been working for years to prevent violence, but it’s like we’re working with blinders on.”

Larry Cohen, executive director of Oakland’s Prevention Institute, called the backing of research “perhaps the most important part” of the President’s proposals.


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The Gun Lobby’s Favorite Part of the Health Law

By Jay Hancock, Kaiser Health News

(Image: Kaiser Health News)

Did you know the Affordable Care Act stands up for gun rights?  The “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights” section (page 19 in this PDF) says the health law’s wellness programs can’t require participants to give information about guns in the house. It also keeps the Department of Health and Human Services from collecting data on gun use and stops insurance companies from denying coverage or raising premiums on members because of gun use.

The Newtown massacre renews the controversy about whether gun violence is a public health issue. Should health authorities view guns in the same category as pneumonia and car crashes? The debate has been going on for years, with epidemiologists arguing firearms can kill just as many as a bad flu season and gun-rights advocates viewing any attention from public health officials as a step toward gun confiscation — the beginning of the end of the Second Amendment.

The ACA language was included at the request of Nevada Democrat Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader and a gun rights supporter. Reid’s office did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the National Rifle Association.

Public health scholars criticize the measure because they say it keeps doctors and nurses from doing their jobs.  While the law doesn’t ban doctors from asking about guns, it places limits on what information they can record. The fear is physicians will avoid the topic altogether, inhibiting a full conversation about firearms hazards. Continue reading