Owning gun violence
They call it “code orange” in GTA hospitals. And trauma surgeon Najma Ahmed found herself in the middle of it late one night in July last summer. When she received the code signal, she said she dashed to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto in minutes. She passed a long line of ambulances on her way to the emergency ward and immediately began conducting triage of injured civilians.
“There was a sense of shock,” she told the CBC. “We’re Canada. This does not happen here.”
Dr. Ahmed, who is both the acting medical director at St. Mike’s and vice-chair of education in the department of surgery at the University of Toronto, joined her colleagues in the ER that night of the Danforth Avenue shootings. The random firing of a semi-automatic pistol killed three and injured 13 others that night. It was partly the seriousness of the call that night that struck Dr. Ahmed, but in the days that followed, she recognized something else. All this mayhem had left emotional scars on her, her staff and her city. She remembered the faces of the families that had to be told their loved one had died. She spoke out.
“This is avoidable,” she told CBC Radio. “If we consider this a public health issue … something can be done.”
Then, she and the advocacy group she co-founded, Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, called on the medical profession, the public and government to push lawmakers to treat gun violence as a public health issue. In February, the CDPG, noting that Toronto had witnessed 96 homicides in 2018, 51 of them gun-related, spoke to Canadian senators examining Bill C-71, proposed legislation to overhaul the background check system for owning firearms, new record-keeping requirements for retailers and increased restrictions on transporting firearms.
“[The bill] would minimize exposure to guns, minimize the number of guns in circulation and the [number] of guns in society,” she said on radio.
It didn’t take long for some gun owners to react. Among them, Rod Giltaca, the executive director of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, claimed that gun owners are also Canadians who want a safer Canada. Beginning Feb. 5, CCFR website users were encouraged to file complaints to the College of Physicians and Surgeons that Dr. Ahmed had overstepped her bounds.
“[Doctors] have no idea about the other side,” Giltaca said. And then he claimed that Dr. Ahmed’s statements represented “an abuse” of her position as a doctor.
- Here’s where people who are not law-enforcement officers, soldiers, licensed hunters, farmers, or elite competitive shooters lose their credibility. Those who (like the National Rifle Association in the U.S.) work themselves into a lather at the mere suggestion of control, aren’t listening, aren’t reading, and aren’t thinking constructively about life and death in a 21st- century world. If a health professional who routinely faces the trauma of “code orange” triages, who responds with every ounce of skill to piece back together what handgun bullets have torn apart, and who then has to face families to explain such insanity … if she cannot fairly assess the damage that gun play inflicts on Canadian streets, who the hell can?
Certainly not the gun lobby. Isn’t it the most rabid gunowners who routinely say, “Guns don’t kill. People do”? Isn’t it they who say because they have to cope with such onerous gun regulations, that they are the most responsible citizens of all? All right, if gun owners are such responsible citizens, why can’t they own up to the irresponsibility of those who choose to abuse that right and kill others? In the wake of the recent shooting at the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, I have heard nothing from gun owners or their lobbyists recognizing there’s a problem in that community, i.e. that everybody ought to own the damage. And they’ve offered precious few solutions, least of all ways that might curb it. I truly believe if they’re not part of the solution, they’re part of the problem.
And for those gun owners who claim that Hell will freeze over before any regulation meddles in their gun cases, let me cite one small but instructive example that it already has. When lead ammunition was banned in waterfowl hunting in the U.S., back in 1991, there was loud protest, but ultimately a bunch of environmentalists (Audubon Society) managed to convince Congress to regulate away lead shot thus preventing the collateral poisoning of other birds, animals and humans. Of course, legislating lead out of hunting ammunition is a long way from removing handguns from street gangs, racists and Islamophobes, but it’s proof the gun lobby is wrong. It can and does cope with regulation. It can and does recognize an environmental threat.
It’s time for gun owners to recognize that perhaps medical professionals and others understand the culture of guns as well as they say they do.
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