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American Doctors Speak Out on Gun Violence

  • Carol Pearson

After yet another mass shooting in the U.S., when a gunman killed 12 people at a military facility in Washington last week, members of Congress are again talking about gun safety. Deep divisions on the issue kept Congress from passing new laws on gun control earlier this year even after 20 children were killed in a shooting at a Connecticut elementary school last December. But doctors are now adding their voices to the debate.

Across the nation, doctors are speaking out against gun violence.

At Medstar Washington Hospital where victims of the Navy Yard shooting were treated, Dr. Janis Orlowski said there is an "evil" in U.S. society.

"I may be the chief medical officer of a very large trauma center, but there's something wrong here when we have these multiple shootings, these multiple injuries, there's something wrong," she said.

A study published in the American Journal of Medicine indicates that gun ownership does not make a country safer. The report also found another factor in the level of gun violence: mental illness.

Those who committed mass shootings in the past few years in Colorado, Arizona, Texas and Virginia were all men who had serious mental illnesses and access to guns.

"Mentally ill people who are not in treatment, are more violent than the rest of the population," said Dr. Eliot Sorel, who is a psychiatrist at The George Washington University School of Public Health.

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, those with a serious mental illness are more likely to be violent if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs or during an extreme state when they are out of touch with reality. But the institute also reports that most people with a serious mental illness are not violent.

However, statistics show that in the U.S., almost half of adults with a serious mental illness are not in treatment.

"Mental health is somewhat relegated and still is, kind of like an orphan as part of health system. So the access to those services are very limited," said Sorel.

Sorel also points to cultural aspects of American society - the value of individual rights and the second amendment right to bear arms.

He says to reduce the incidents of gun violence, it must be treated as a public health issue.

"We have the tools in public health to do a disciplined review of what is going on and to come up with some recommendations," he said.

Polls show most Americans agree that those with serious mental illnesses should not have access to firearms, but they wonder if the current mental health system is comprehensive enough to prevent mass shootings.

Related articles and polls:

"Guns Do Not Make a Nation Safer,” Say Doctors"

"Americans Fault Mental Health System Most for Gun Violence"

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