Arizona representative Gabrielle Giffords remains on a ventilator in intensive care. In spite of the fact that I’m a trauma surgeon, I will not speculate on her injuries or her ultimate survival. I will say that her ultimate neurologic functions (how well she will be able to function and think) are still in question. There were several other victims in the shooting and they continue to improve. My prayers are with them and their families.
Here the few of the things that we’ve seen in the last several days:
1. We seem to have a willingness to fall into clichés every time a tragedy like this happens. The left wants gun-control and the right wants everyone to own a gun. The truth is somewhere in the middle. The reality is that our gun laws are not going to change. There’s no political will in Congress to change the gun laws. There are powerful lobbies on both sides, leaving us in a stalemate. Therefore, both sides need to look elsewhere in order to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. The mentally ill should be barred from owning a gun. The problem is how you define mentally ill. With medications, the mentally ill can get better and function in our society. Does this mean that someone can then own a gun if they stay on their medications? This is where all of this becomes very difficult. Owning a gun is a right and a privilege in this country.
2. We do need to tone down our rhetoric on both sides. Excellent articles have been written about the rhetoric. Eric Boehlert from Media Matters, as well as others, have documented the inflammatory rhetoric that we’ve seen from the right. The left has combated some of this rhetoric with inflammatory rhetoric of their own. Most Americans will see the inflammatory rhetoric as over-the-top. Most Americans will dismiss this, but we’re not talking about most Americans. We’re talking about those who live on the fringes of society and are susceptible to these powerful influences. These Americans do not think rationally.
3. We need to do more to fix the problems in our society with regards to mental health. Time and time again in our society we’ve seen mental health pushed to the back burner. They don’t exactly have an advocacy group. Those Americans who are mentally ill are not necessarily lobbying Congress. In order to get things done today you have to be the squeaky wheel or you have to be able to donate money. Mental health victims are neither. We need to have a robust discussion over how to treat patients who need treatment but don’t want it. Paranoid schizophrenic patients do not walk into a doctor’s office and say, “Hey Doc, I’m hearing voices.” Instead, it is their family and loved ones who bring them in and say they’re not acting right. These people need to be held against their will in order to get treatment.
4. We do need to have better security for our public figures without turning into a police state. Are we going to expand the Secret Service to include all of our Congressman/Congresswomen? Or should the capitol police be in charge of their security? I am not in favor of any hasty legislation. I am in favor of a thoughtful discussion that comes up with a solution with which we all can live. The fact that Heath Shuler carries a gun is somewhat scary. I suspect that his catlike reflexes would’ve left him susceptible to the same type of shooting that we saw in Arizona. Everyone being armed is not the answer. I have no objection to Congressman Shuler legally carrying a weapon but I think it’s ludicrous that he thinks that he would’ve been able to do something different. If a random constituent comes up and start shooting, he would be taken by surprise just as everyone else would’ve been.
5. There’s going to be a lot of scrutiny over the gunman. The mainstream media is going to look for “signs or signals” that we could have picked up on before this tragedy. Yet, nothing meaningful will come from this exercise. The bottom line to all of the scrutiny is whether we can predict human behavior. The answer is no.