In this summer of gun-related tragedies — the shooting deaths of nine in a Charleston, South Carolina, church; five service members dead in Chattanooga, Tennessee; a rampage in Aroostook County that left two dead and several wounded; and an ongoing manhunt in Piscataquis County for the alleged killer of Stephanie Gebo — we stop to ponder the logic of An Act to Authorize the Carrying of Concealed Handguns without a Permit.
As nurses, we have a very specific perspective.
The American Nurses Association advocates for nurses “to participate in the development … [and] implementation of policies that protect patient health and safety … and establish a culture of safety.” We as nurses believe our responsibility extends to the health and safety of our communities, too, and therefore feel compelled to share our concerns about the direction gun policies are taking.
We see policies in Maine and across the country as a threat to safety — a matter that far supersedes the right to bear arms, regardless of how you interpret the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. According to the American Public Health Association, guns kill 30,000 people and injure 60,000 each year. Between 2003 and 2010, $18.9 billion was spent on hospital care for gun-related injuries. Can we really afford that?
We as nurses also believe in “evidence-based practice,” where health and safety are concerned. That applies to the development of policy and practice based on rigorous scientific research instead of beliefs or tradition. Research about gun use, gun policy and public safety is not prolific, though. Since 1996 certain federal laws actually have prohibited the use of federal funds to conduct the research needed to better understand the public health hazard that guns have become. With such limited evidence, we risk passing poorly informed policy.
Despite the obstacles to research funding, there is some remarkable evidence linking gun policies and citizens’ safety.
A 2014 review of 15 studies co-written by Drs. Andrew Anglemyer, Tara Horvath and George Rutherford and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds conclusively that having a gun in a home makes one more likely to successfully attempt suicide or be a victim of homicide. They also found that mental illness does not increase the risk of committing suicide or being killed by a gun.
In another review published by the American Journal of Medicine in 2013, Drs. Sripal Bangalore and Franz Messerli debunked the belief that guns make a country safer. They compared the rate of firearms-related deaths in 27 countries. The U.S., with the most guns per head in the world, has the highest rate of deaths from firearms, while Japan, which has the lowest rate of gun ownership, has the least. High rates of mental illness in any country, on the other hand, did not predict more gun deaths. Guns predicted gun deaths.
Drs. Eric Fleegler, Lois Lee, Michael Monteaux, David Hemenway and Rebekah Mannix examined state gun laws and their relationship to gun deaths in a 2013 article in the Archives of Internal Medicine. States with laws that curb firearm trafficking, strengthen background checks on purchasers of firearms beyond those required by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, ensure child safety, ban military-style assault weapons and restrict guns in public places have significantly lower homicide and suicide rates. It seems clear to us that, although guns have an important place in our culture for hunting and sport, they also can be associated with poor decisions and tragic outcomes. It also follows that with fewer guns around, we wouldn’t need them for self-defense.
The Maine Legislature’s ill-conceived law allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit does not restrict but instead allows more guns in public places. It, therefore, puts the health and safety of Maine residents at risk.
If guns are for sport and hunting, why do we need to conceal them? We urge our legislators to rethink and rescind the law. We support and urge legislation that will strengthen universal background checks; fund new technology, such as improved mental health and gun ownership databases; require increased education about keeping guns away from household members who would not safely use them; and establish and fund community programs for violence and suicide prevention and anger management.
Cathleen Goebel, RN, lives in Lamoine. Mary Cahoon, RN, lives in Hancock. Dr. Moira O’Neill, RN, lives in Surry.