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#ThisIsOurLane in Colorado, Too

minute read

Written by Catherine Velopulos on December 3, 2018

As an emergency physician and a trauma surgeon, we are honored to work with our multi-disciplinary teams 24/7 to save limbs and lives after devastating injuries — including those from firearms.

As public health trained researchers, we also strive to prevent those injuries because it is an unbearable part of our job to tell a mother or a father that we couldn’t save their child, or to tell a child that we couldn’t save their sibling. Sometimes we are lucky and we get to tell someone they will survive, but we had to amputate a limb or despite our efforts they will never walk again.

Our hospitals have plans for responding to mass shootings, knowing that our local wounds from Aurora and Columbine are still raw. For those of us who treated patients arriving at CU Anschutz Medical Campus following the theater shooting in 2012 we know that recovery is a long road.

And we grieve the many lives lost to firearms that we didn’t get a chance to save — the victims of suicides, homicides, and unintentional shootings who died at home or on the streets.

The recent #ThisIsOurLane phenomenon began after a November 7 tweet from the NRA that began: “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane … ”

But we are not anti-gun.

And we know that no one — not gun owners, nor non-owners — wants to lose a loved one to firearm violence.

The most important thing is not us, but how we might make the worst part of our jobs rare. We are proud to work, live, and partner with firearm owners, instructors and retailers as we find ways to promote gun safety and reduce injuries and deaths.

We support hospital-based violence intervention programs to reduce recidivism in at-risk youth, and programs directed at identifying and assisting victims of intimate partner violence. And given that 75 percent of our state’s gun deaths are due to suicide, we applaud Colorado’s effort to engage firearm retailers across the state in helping prevent suicide. As public health researchers, we continue our work to help inform realistic and sustainable strategies to achieve these goalsSo when we talk with you about firearm safety, it’s not about gun control. It’s just like when we talk about seatbelts, we’re not suggesting you never get in a car — we just want to help you avoid injuries. When we talk about who should drive a vehicle or have access to it, we want to make sure that the person in question has the training and capacity to do so safely. The same holds true when we talk about designated drivers, child safety seats, or bicycle helmets.

Yes, #ThisIsOurLane — but by “our,” we mean all of us. Healthcare providers and patients, gun owners and non-owners, all 5.7 million of us living in Colorado. We share the same road.

There are things we can do today to prevent firearm injuries and deaths: we can make sure firearms are stored securely and not accessible to children, people at risk of suicide, those involved in domestic violence, or people with dementia; we can work to build capacity for destigmatizing, diagnosing, and treating mental illness; we can encourage respectful, purposeful dialogue about policy solutions; we can also support non-partisan organizations like AFFIRM, a non-profit comprised of healthcare leaders seeking to end gun violence through research, innovation and evidence-based practice.

In the hospital, we’ll still be standing by as clinicians with blood transfusions and emergency surgery. But we’ll also be doing what we can as researchers so that someday no one will need them.

Originally published as opinion editorial for The Denver Post, co-written by Catherine Velopulos.

Read a related report co-authored by Betz, published in The New England Journal of Medicine.