The pain of this tragedy is almost unbearable. I have dealt with the issue of gun violence for more than 20 years. As a trauma surgeon, I have wallowed in this issue. I've seen gun violence from every angle. I've seen these weapons used for combat. I've seen these weapons used in self defense. I've seen these weapons used in anger. I've seen these weapons accidentally discharged, maiming or killing a loved one. I've even seen an unfortunate gentleman accidentally shoot himself with a gun that was held together with duct tape as he was trying to kill dinner.
I think that the tragedy in Newtown brings up two very important questions. First of all, what can we do to address mental illness in the United States? Yes, I know we do not have a full picture of the gunmen. But, what we do know is that mental illness has played a huge role in the mass killings over the past several years. Secondly, a modified M-16 rifle was used to kill the majority of the victims. Would some sort of gun control measure fix this problem?
I think that addressing mental illness is critical. We desperately need more psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other people trained in helping patients with mental illness. Over the last 30 years, we've poorly address this problem. I simply don't see this Congress standing up and pouring money into the mental health issue. I might be wrong. It is possible that Newtown has changed the politics, but I doubt it. I look for passionate speeches in the House and in the Senate. I just don't see that much is going to get done on this issue.
On the issue of gun control, I think that we've reached a critical point in which something will get done. Unfortunate, I simply don't see major changes. I see some sort of bill that will address assault weapons. There might be a second bill that would address Americans with mental illness owning or having access to weapons. I don't look for this measure to be written very strongly.
Over the next several days, I think that the reaction of the American people will help to form legislation. If the anger, frustration and horror of Newtown fades into memory, then not much will get done on Capitol Hill. On the other hand, if the American people begin to channel their anger into pressuring Congress to do something, Congress will act. I look forward to seeing what happens in the coming days.
Update: Are you wondering what assault rifles you can buy at Wal-Mart? Here's your answer. (You can buy hollow-point bullets at Wal-Mart also...in case you are wondering.)