Doctors Don’t Know Gun Control

By Robert B. Young, MD

Doctors Don’t Know Gun Control
Doctors Don’t Know Gun Control
Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership
Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership

USA –  -(  I’m in favor of discussing firearms with anyone.  That’s what we do here at Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership (DRGO).

But should doctors advise patients about guns?   The answer depends on one’s perspective—and what that discussion entails.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association say “Yes” but define “safe gun use” as “Never”. Florida’s Firearms Owners’ Privacy Act of 2011 says “No” in order to prevent anti-gun doctors from inappropriately influencing patients. The American Medical Association is on board with the anti-s and is backing appeals of the law.

The APHA just held its annual conference to discuss many aspects of public health that we can appreciate. But one theme was about continuing “to push the agenda of a public health approach to gun violence prevention”, words sung in unison with their partner, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.   According to its president, Dan Gross, “gun violence [is] … one of the most pressing public health issues facing our country today.” Researcher Eric Fleegler, MD promoted the bucket list of additional gun restrictions desired by anti-gun activists.

[As we take this look at ‘gun violence’, let’s be clear on the numbers. There are about 32,000 shooting deaths in the United States yearly, of which about 2/3 are suicides and about 1/3 are homicides, with relatively few accidental shooting deaths. If the voluntary, if badly judged, behavior of 30,000 Americans is a crisis, then what about medical care itself, the 3rd leading cause of death in our country? Perhaps 400,000 people die here annually due to mistakes by medical professionals.]

If you want more objective assessment about guns and their true public health relevance (including their contribution to polite society in the hands of responsible owners) you’ll have to go elsewhere. For example, to John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center and to other economists and criminologists who study the realities of guns and violence in our society.

One is James Jacobs, director of Center for Research in Crime and Justice and a professor of constitutional law at New York University School of Law. He makes A Criminologist’s Case Against Gun Control quite succinctly, reviewing “misunderstandings” about the social meaning of firearms, the political realities about our interminable fight over gun control vs. gun rights, and the practical impotence of nearly all proposals to further restrict availability and access to firearms for Americans

Another is attorney David Kopel, who has just published “The costs and consequences of gun control”. This is a policy analysis for the Cato Institute that thoroughly and efficiently explains how most of the Obama Administration’s proposals to reduce ‘gun violence’ are “likely to do little good and much harm”.

Let’s consider Kopel’s points one by one as he addresses the Administration’s wish list of gun control steps. Information not taken from his article is linked elsewhere:

1. Background Checks.  The moth-eaten claim that 40% of gun purchases occur without background checks comes from a study done over 20 years ago—before the National Instant Background Check System was used. Better data since suggest that just 14-22% is a more accurate number. The 80% or so of gun purchases now subject to the NICS are probably the maximum proportion enforceable anyway, since the remainder are private transactions.

Criminals typically buy guns circulating on the black market that were originally stolen or illegally transferred. Many are obtained by straw purchases.   Anyone without a prohibiting record, including future murderers, passes the check and can purchase legally. Too often, prohibited persons’ records still do not get entered into the NICS. There is still widely divergent NICS reporting of prohibited persons among the states due to mental illness or criminal record.

To document all firearm transfers, baseline registration of all guns in America would have to occur in order to identify unauthorized transfers.  That is an intrinsic part of the conflict over establishing universal background checks.  The anti-gun lobby has refused to consider this without recording all transactions.  This may shed light on how Americans can mostly like the idea of universal checks while simultaneously rejecting the idea of gun registration.

2. High-Capacity Magazines.  Banning supposed “high-capacity” magazines (i.e., those that hold more than 10 rounds) is a popular notion nowadays.  But attempts to do so are failing miserably.  New York State’s 2013 Secure Ammunition and Firearms Act (“SAFE”) was to limit magazines to 7 rounds; this portion of the law was overturned in court.  Los Angeles outlawed everything over 10 round capacity, but no one turned in any “high capacity” magazines by the 60 day deadline.

And who decided that more than 10 rounds constitute “high capacity”?  Many pistols and rifles sold today routinely come with 12, 15, 20, even 30 round magazines, and there are scores of millions of those extant.  These are standard capacities for those firearms.  Scary magazines holding 100 or more rounds are after-market novelties that jam easily and have little currency among firearm professionals.

Practically speaking, the theory that forcing bad guys to change magazines more often while shooting should lead to fewer casualties has no basis in experience.  Gun jams have allowed some targeted victims to flee or to attack the gunman, but this has not to Kopel’s knowledge occurred during a magazine change.   Whether magazines containing more than 10 rounds are needed becomes a defining question.  Who is to say?  However, criminals will certainly continue to get them if they want them, and if you’re facing more than one assailant, the more usable rounds in hand the better. ( After a gun fight no one has ever wished they had less ammo. ~ AmmoLand )

3.  Assault Weapons.   As our readers know, ‘assault weapon’ is a meaningless term as used by gun-banners.  They are semi-automatic rifles that may have a hand grip separate from the stock, which may be adjustable.  They may have a barrel cover to dissipate heat and threads at the end for accessories like hearing-protective noise suppressors (aka, “silencers”). Bayonet lugs and grenade or rocket launcher attachments, like full automatic firing, are standard for many military rifles but have not been of much interest to civilians anyway.

The Department of Justice could not “credit the [1994-2004 ‘assault weapon’] ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence”.  Today, where there are such design limitations the market is responding with models that work around them and are essentially the same weapons under the skin.  Such rifles are used in less than 2% of crime, and in no more than ¼ of the extraordinarily rare crime of mass assault.  Handguns, which are now clearly protected arms under the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the 2nd amendment, are the weapons of choice in all criminal activity.  It is clear that the anti-gun lobby has simply created a scapegoat, meaningless except for prior owners made into criminals, depriving future owners of useful choices, and as a step toward banning more weapons.

4. Confiscation and Registration.  Perhaps this section should have been titled “Registration, then Confiscation”, since that’s how it would have to go.  Registration of long guns in Canada was an utter waste of millions of dollars, and was finally abolished in 2012 after solving no crimes.  Longstanding registration of rifles and shotguns in New Zealand was ended in 1983 at the request of New Zealand law enforcement which wanted, like Canada, not to spend good money after bad.

The big question is whether banning and confiscating civilian firearms enhances the safety of the population.  It didn’t in Great Britain:  “Great Britain was a much safer society in the early 20th century, when the nation had virtually no gun crime and virtually no gun control. Now it has much more of both”.  Despite being held up as a model by our liberal oligarchy, Australia’s broad 1996 firearms ban led to no significant, long-term differences in murder or crime rates compared to ours, in spite of our accelerating private gun ownership since then.  Suicides in Australia have substantially increased, even though they occur less often by gun; ours have fluctuated but not dramatically.

Following up similar work he published in 1991, Gary Kleck found in 2013 that “registration [is] of no benefit in reducing any type of firearms misuse” in the United States and Canada.  The American tradition of uncompromising insistence on self-determination is being played out now in New York and Connecticut.  More than 90% of the victims of these states’ recent ‘assault weapon’ bans have refused to register their previously lawful firearms, as those acts required.  Not only does registration not affect the incidence of crime, it simply will not succeed in the United States.

5.  What Can Be Done?  First of all, ‘gun violence’ draws headlines yet is actually decreasing.  Over past decades the homicide rate, violent crime, and gun accidents have all fallen dramatically, while American gun ownership has soared.  More widespread legal gun ownership does correlate with less crime, and it may be partly responsible.

Mass murders and premeditated homicides are not fundamentally preventable because perpetrators plan their attacks and will do so regardless of laws intended to interfere with them.  At the same time, no outside interference is likely to inhibit impulsive murder.  Designating ‘gun-free zone’ are invitations to crime and are nearly always targeted by mass shooters.  Armed citizens and security personnel have saved lives by stopping murderers in their sprees.

Our society properly prioritizes the rights and privacy of patients in our mental health ‘system’.  But nearly all mass shooters and many other murderers are seriously mentally ill, and suicide attempters virtually always are. Mechanisms for communication about and follow-up of people who are identified as potentially dangerous are woefully inadequate.

Resources for secure treatment have vastly diminished.  Commitment to treatment is restricted to acute crises rather than allowed for more commonly impaired function due to illness.  Persisting signs of risk lead to trying to help people live with them rather than providing more intensive treatment in order to reduce them.

Kopel correctly concludes, “Firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens enhance public safety.  Firearms in the wrong hands endanger everyone.”  The difficulty lies in how to keep them out of the wrong hands without infringing on the rights of the law-abiding.  As Jacobs puts it, “there is no simple, effective policy to reduce gun crime”.

Focusing on specific types of firearms or their cartridge capacity is a zero-sum game; most any gun will do for killing.  Adding more restrictive gun control laws would mainly harass the millions of responsible, safe gun owners in America.  Doing that would create no greater obstacles to criminal possession and misuse of guns.

I’ll add that we are coming into an era of a new kind of attacker—the trained, well-equipped terrorist who seeks to cause maximum carnage regardless of his or her own survival.  These plots have to be interdicted whenever possible. But, as in San Bernardino where that kind of assault just happened, there is no other recourse once attacked but to fight back with everything one has.

Robert B. Young, MD
Robert B. Young, MD

Here’s hoping that our right to keep and bear the arms to do that remains intact.


— Robert B. Young, MD is a psychiatrist practicing in Pittsford, NY, an associate clinical professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.

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There are a couple of topics that I’d like to comment on here: First, I went to a “Primary Care Physician” who took my insurance some time ago, and got the “Do you have any guns in the house, how do you store them, etc.” questions. I asked why she was asking these questions and was told it was a matter of home safety. When I asked what training she had in this area (ie, NRA or other safety instructor certifications, Hunter safety training, etc.) I was told she was experienced in dealing with home safety issues, and was primarily… Read more »


In over 20 years in law enforcement I never met or read about anyone involved in a shooting incident who, after the smoke had cleared, stated I wish I would have had less rounds in the magazine.