Friday, January 8, 2016

American Pie

I’m looking at toaster ovens on Amazon. Reading the reviews people post about the various brands of toaster oven would lead one to believe that there is no more divisive issue in our nation today than cook times, convection settings and crumb trays. American’s sure do have a lot of opinions and aren’t afraid to post them willy-nilly all over the Internet.

Fortunately (I hate conflict) there are a few things we can agree on as a nation and not surprisingly dessert is amongst them. Apple pie has an approval rating of 81%, I mean what’s more American than pie? Ice cream topped the list with an approval rating of 93%-- what the heck—where are my lactose intolerant friends?

Recent media (or shopping for toaster ovens) might make it seem like we as a nation have more differences than similarities, but in fact, its not only dessert we’re crazy about—its gun control. 90% of Americans support universal background checks for all firearms sold. More people approve of background checks, than like apple pie. I knew it—cooked apples are disgusting.

While 90% isn’t too shabby, I know that 100% of all Americans agree that the epidemic of mass shootings we have in this country is unacceptable. Even the most right wing NRA member feels a heavy heart when we hear of a shooting on the news. Republican or Democrat, East Coaster or Southerner—our hearts broke the same when we saw 6 years old running for their lives at Sandy Hook, or movie goers murdered in Aurora.  Not even the biggest Charlton Heston supporter approves of tragedies like these.

But herein lies our convection oven conundrum…what do we do about it?

We are really good at mourning the victims of gun violence. After Sandy Hook the celebrity judges of The Voice sang Halleluiah while holding up the names of the dead children. It was a saccharine tribute, and it makes me sick how use to these shootings and honoring their victims we have become.

We are good at collectively mourning tragedy, and really crappy at preventing it. And the most outrageous thing, is that we know it. We expect to see mass shootings on the news—they have become ingrained in the fabric of our country. We see headlines like, “Nation Shocked,” or “Stunned Community Mourns,” but if we’re honest, we’re not shocked—at least not nearly shocked enough. I’ll tell you right now—there will be more mass shootings in 2016. Raise your hand if you’re surprised? Anyone? Yup. That’s what I thought. Can’t shock us. This is America. Land of 600 pound people, the cronut and guns.

Following Sandy Hook, gun control legislation including 23 executive orders and 12 proposed congressional actions were signed by President Obama. Proposals included universal background checks, an assault weapons ban and limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds.

By all accounts, these were some very reasonable conditions and in fact 92% of Americans approved of them. The proposed legislation was defeated by Congress on April 17th, 2013. Remember that 20 children and 6 adults were killed at Sandy Hook—the second most deadly school shooting committed by one person next to Virginia Tech.


I was having coffee with a friend on the main campus several years ago. We sat outside the Silo and sipped our lattes when we started talking about what we would do if ever we were out in public and someone started shooting. I said I would try to hide somewhere, or at least try to run. My friend said he thought about fighting the gunman, but neither of us could be sure what we would do.

When you hear the door to the lecture hall slam—do you ever wonder if its someone bursting in with a gun? Do you think about where the exits are in a room, or where you would hide?

I do.

A lesser known shooting, that has likely faded from your memory (since no one was killed except the gunman) happened in 2014 at Florida State University. A man opened fire in the packed library during finals week. I read a text that a student sent to her father during the crisis.

“There’s a man with a gun in the library. I love you.”

Those words have become etched on my heart. She was saying goodbye. She, like most of us, had likely seen these kind of events unfold on the news before. She knew how it worked. Luckily, this student and all of her classmates survived. But her words still ring in my ears. And I think about what text I would send my parents, if ever I was in a similar situation.

I have some friends who own guns, some of them are even members of the NRA. And like the good friends they are, they read what I write without fail. So now I speak directly to you, my precious gun owning friends. We do not disagree. Our hearts are the same. And although I don’t think that you should be able to have a gun that does not mean we can’t agree on gun control. Some of the biggest proponents of gun control measures are people with guns. You know the importance and responsibility of being a gun owner. And indeed we would be much better off by restricting access to guns, and keeping them out of the hands of people that shouldn’t have them.

The media would have us believe that gun owners and pacifists are on opposite sides on this issue. But I don’t think we are. Of course, we could debate the finer points of what the Second Amendment says vs its original intention. Or the purpose of the NRA (which was incorporated in 1871- the same year the KKK became an illegal terrorist organization-do with that what you wish). But let’s not. Let’s not get the better of ourselves. It doesn’t serve. And it doesn’t honor the victims of gun violence.

Now I fancy myself a realist. And I know that no matter how many words I devote to the advocacy of gun control, it won’t budge the actual policies implemented in this nation. For it is a problem of much larger proportion than we can reason round the dinner table, or yell at each other about or change with celebrity prowess. But we can do smaller things—like supporting the surgeon general in his bid to lift the ban on federally funded gun research. We can continue to push for sensible restrictions on ammo, (sorry but you don’t need 100 round cartridge to hunt).

Our voices as medical students speak louder than most. And it is our responsibility to advocate for our patients, our communities and our country. If you are a doctor or a medical student or thinking about becoming either of those things and you don’t think gun violence is a problem, then you have no business in medicine or claiming you care about the health of human beings. There is no point in managing someone’s diabetes if you don’t also manage their risk of death by firearm. We have a duty to act and to speak out against the complacency of our lawmakers and our Donald Trump types (as if you need more of a reason, he supports open carry laws).

This isn’t toaster ovens here people. And I can’t possibly bear to watch another mass shooting unfold on the news. As I write this, Obama is introducing some of the same executive orders to congress that were first presented after Sandy Hook. We can do this. We want this. Gun control is not controversial, but rather wanted by more Americans than apple pie.

And what could be more American than that. 

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