Yes, Again

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People have told me I’ve said enough about guns and the pain they cause in our country, that I have made my point and I should move on to more pleasant and useful matters. The truth is, I have written about gun violence so many times over the last several years because it’s an issue I feel passionately about, it is one that has touched me personally, and one that continues to touch me professionally. You can read some of my prior pieces here, here, here,  here and here. 

Turns out, there is no ‘enough’ with guns. There is no measured rationality. It is an emotional thing for Americans. Here, the gun is more than a gun. It is more even than a phallic symbol, as Dr. Freud might have observed. The gun is our nationally-worshiped idol, as historian Garry Wills suggested here.

The adolescent revolutionary wet-dream fantasies of the  ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ crowd, the Oath Keepers, white supremacist militias and other wannabe Rambos keep feeding our national obsession and growing our civilian national arsenal.

Responding last week to increasingly urgent calls for the meaningful reform of gun regulation by the healthcare community, itself in response to yet another mass shooting, the National Rifle Association (NRA), just the latest in a long line of organizations which make their livelihoods from the misery of others, a diabolically effective lobbying organization for arms manufacturers, told emergency and trauma doctors: “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.” [emphasis added]

“Do you have any idea how many bullets I pull out of corpses weekly? This isn’t just my lane. It’s my f— highway.”
– Dr. Judy Melinek, San Francisco forensic pathologist

Doctors, many of whom have very deep experience with the business end of the whole gun-worship thing, were having none of it. Thousands took to social media (with the hashtag #ThisIsMyLane) to post their experiences and photos of their masks, gowns, shoes and floors, blood-splashed from victims of gun violence.

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Here’s what I’ve personally seen in the past year:

  • The victims of mass shootings at a UPS delivery facility, YouTube headquarters, a high school and a local barber shop;
  • Countless shooting victims of lower-profile incidents;
  • Their blood, everywhere;
  • Their frightened, angry and grieving families;
  • Our doctors telling brand new widows that our staff did all we could but that their spouses died anyway;
  • Those widows, along with their children and extended family members screaming with anguish;
  • Our nurses desperately looking to colleagues for emotional support after too many hours of too much death;
  • A 13 year-old kid, who was sitting next to his dad when he was shot, shaking with fear and anxiety, refusing to leave his dad’s side even when he needed to go into the CT scanner;
  • A high school student sitting by himself in our emergency department, having just heard that his classmate and friend had been shot dead, saying over and over through sobs, “What am I going to tell my sister? What am I going to tell my sister?”
  • Our social workers trying to help families, insane with grief, through the first hours after a loved one has died.

And as we Americans purchase ever more guns, call for ever more people to be armed, supposedly for self-protection, arrange ever more gun-friendly playdates with neighboring militias, as mercenary spokespeople like Ann Coulter and Dana Loesch continue to purposefully inflame their audiences, the bloodthirsty maw that is this country looks for its next victims.

Stop writing about guns? Fat chance.

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A Reasonable Thought

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Imagine this:

You wake up on a typical Hump Day morning. Get yourself into a quick shower, grab a cup of coffee, maybe some toast. Put on your uniform. Say “See ya,” or something similar to your spouse and kids. You drive into work.

It isn’t a dream job but there is some measure of security and it comes with benefits. And you try to make it decent every day by being friendly with your customers, especially the ones you see most weekdays. There are some nice people on your route and you’ve gotten to know a few really well over the years.

Makes the day go by to share a few words with them as you make your deliveries.

When you get in on this Wednesday, there’s a meeting before you start out. You grab another cup of coffee from the break room. Should have stopped at Peet’s or Starbucks because break room coffee is crap but it would have made you late.

Shoot the breeze with a few co-corkers before the meeting starts. Jim went to the extra-innings Giants game last night and looks a little tired. Manuel’s daughter is having her quinceañera over the weekend. 

That’s a pretty typical start-of-shift scene at a lot of workplaces, right?

Now imagine:

One of your co-workers stands up in that completely routine meeting, pulls a gun out of his coat and starts shooting the people around you, dead.

That very thing happened here last week, at the local UPS facility, just a few short blocks away. And, as typically happens in the wake of incidents of mass violence in San Francisco, the gruesome results were visited upon our hospital.

I stood in a makeshift conference room as an emergency room doctor told the wife of one victim that her husband, who’d a few hours earlier left his home for what they both thought would be just another routine day at work delivering packages, had died.

Those who know me at all know my feelings about gun control. After this latest incident in too  a long string of them I am even more firmly dedicated to my beliefs; as a public safety necessity, we should regulate the civilian ownership of firearms at least as actively as we regulate the operation of motor vehicles.

Just imagine yourself going to work on a Wednesday and never coming home.

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Oh, Canada

The Glacier at Lake Louise
The Glacier at Lake Louise

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to revisit the beautiful Canadian Rockies. They were just as I remember them from a visit I took about 25 years ago, with my then-fiancee. (Good story for another time, she and I are now spouses.)

The scenery was, of course, breathtaking. One morning, we rose at 5:00 and boarded canoes to witness the sun rising on the glacier at Lake Louise. It was magical, a spiritual moment of the type you (or, rather, I) can only find in nature.

The Banff National Park has many such places and moments in store for visitors, of whom there are many, from many different lands. Considering the number of visitors we saw, the openness and cleanliness of the park is nothing short of a miracle. Or it would be back home in the United States. In Canada, people take community responsibility seriously. There is scarcely any litter to speak of. People pick it up.  There is little, if any, graffiti on public structures. Canadians who live within the borders of the park take just pride in their place and the condition in which visitors find it.

Can you, my fellow Americans, even imagine?

Of course, this civic pride isn’t just in the national parks. Canadian cities are bright and open, clean and vibrant. There is a public spirit I don’t often find at home.

And there’s more. Canadians are polite and helpful. They act like grownups. They wait in line and take their turns. They ask if they can help. They don’t run red lights and wait for pedestrians. They build community centers and athletic facilities. Canada offers a public health system that guarantees healthcare for all, just by virtue of being there. And, then, there’s the issue of guns.

At dinner one night, our waitperson asked where we were from. When I said San Francisco, he said, “You must feel naked without your gun, eh?” When I asked him what he meant (Because, God knows, I don’t often pack heat.), he said that he assumed all Americans carry guns around. I tried to correct the impression but I suspect he’d seen too much TV and was having none of it.

Imagine living in a clean, polite, safe country like that.

There is much, I believe, about Canada to admire. And every single time I’ve visited, I’m reminded of that.

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