With the senseless violence at the Sandy Hook elementary school we are once again plunged into a period of national grieving and “what ifs”. All too often we have repeated this same process with the recent movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and the murders at the Sikh temple.
In the post 911 era we are faced with violence from abroad and more troubling violence from within. We will look again for a reason to explain this violence, but there can be no rational explanation for the senseless acts. Whether the perpetrators were loners or had significant social and psychiatric issues, it almost does not matter. What is really important is what we, as a society, are prepared to do about this.
We are a society that was founded on violence. Early settlers faced hostile Indian nations when they came to this land. They in turn responded violently against these people who were protecting their territory. Our military eventually reduced the Indian threat. We participated in a violent civil war to end slavery and reset our priorities which killed 600,000 of our citizens. At present, we are fighting terrorists globally who use indiscriminant violence against innocent citizens to further their political agenda. This is often done in the name of God.
In the face of all this insanity, what are we to do. Our brethren in Canada and England do not understand this problem as they have no where near the carnage that we tolerate in this country. Are we to shed our tears, watch the news stations dissect and talk ad nauseum about the issue and then continue business as usual? Have we grown so immune to violence that we have no response?
I support the second amendment and the right of citizens to bear arms. When this law was written, citizens carried muskets and single shot long rifles not automatic weapons capable of firing 50 rounds a minute! Does any hunter or citizen need such military weapons for sport or self protection? Do we want to continue to witness accounts where local police are fighting criminals with better weapons?
We have all heard the argument many times “that people kill people not guns”. As protectors and healers of society, we cannot continue to tolerate 100,000 of our citizens wounded each year by firearms and 30,000 people killed each year. I doubt that we will eliminate all violence in society, but do we need to continue to watch murders daily on television and have our children play video games with countless carnage. Is this different than the meaningless carnage that Roman spectators cheered in the Colliseum? We should expect and demand better.
As physicians, we must unite to condemn all forms of violence as an unacceptable part of entertainment. We must not silently allow people to tolerate the high level of violence in our modern day society. The most successful grassroots activity was the Mothers Against Drunk Driving that started forty years ago and promoted safer driving. While this hasn’t eliminated the problem, it has helped to reduce alcohol related vehicle deaths. Physicians must join in a grassroots effort to curb gun violence and control the proliferation of military weapons in our society. To continue to tolerate the status quo will only result in more senseless deaths and scenes of the president and citizens shedding tears for the murdered innocents!
Harvey B. Lefton, MD, is President of the Philadelphia County Medical Society.