Home of the brave?

“I kissed my daughter as she left for school today and realized it might be the last time I would ever see her.”  New Jersey mom, three days after the Sandy Hook, CT shootings

On December 14, 2012, twenty school children died of the Gun Disease, shot making gingerbread houses.  As guns beget guns, firearm injury and death spread like a virus.  Doctors, the healthcare system, have failed to protect the most vulnerable part of our population from this highly infectious illness, and innocents continue to die.

Once upon a time, most guns were owned by people with the maturity to control their use.  Lawmen, hunters, marksman, and owners of vulnerable property used firearms as tools and exercised a high level of safety.  However, guns have massively proliferated and are in the grasp of those without the capacity or desire to limit their violence.  So now, instead of improving or protecting life, guns guarantee no one is safe and the children die.

The critical question regarding any infestation or disease, which kills thousands of people, is how does it spread?  What is the method of contagion?  Lyme Disease is spread by tick, lung cancer by smoking and diabetes by overeating and limited exercise. What do guns need to proliferate and kill?  Fear.

With every gun purchased, every bullet discharged and every child buried, the level of fear in our country increases.  As fear increases more lock their doors, bar their windows, and look with anxiety toward their neighbors.  Parents listen as their children’s nightmares replace holiday hope with horror, bare their knuckles in anger, and in desperation and fear they do the only act that seems to remain; they buy a gun.  Fear is the root cause, the necessary event, for the spread of this disease.

If we are going to stop the slaughter and not simply accept the blood of innocents as the cost for a distorted view of the American dream, then we must overcome fear.  Fear of “others.”  Fear of change.  Fear of taking responsibility for our nation.  Fear of fear itself.  As long as we are so frightened that we deny the need to work together, we will fail to give our children that most basic freedom, the right to life.

Who should “fix” this problem?  Every one of us.  Doctors, because gun deaths are linked to psychiatric illness and if they are going to be stopped mental health services in this country must be improved.  Politicians, because those they represent are frightened and dying.  Law enforcement, because criminal ownership of weapons increases gun violence and because effective gun laws are vital.  Teachers, mothers and fathers because they have a duty to raise children in a safe environment.  Leaders of industry, because a country which the world sees as a shooting gallery cannot compete or lead.  Major pro-gun organizations because they have the expertise to propose reasonable solutions, and rampant shooting deaths put responsible gun ownership in jeopardy.  Gun manufacturers, not only because of their unique knowledge, but because if they do not help stop the violence they are morally culpable for the slaughter.

Random death spread by fear terrorizes all.  The future not only of our children’s lives, but of the fabric for which this nation stands, is threatened.  Together we can conquer. The question is “does that star- spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”




  • Fantastic..well said James. We are all responsible for the worlds we live in.
  • Thank you so much for this, Dr. Salwitz. You are so right that beneath the right-to-bear-arms rhetoric is irrational fear. We might not be able to make those fears go away with discussion and laws, but we can do a far better job at stopping gun proliferation. Condoms don't cure HIV either, but laws to get semiautomatic multiround weapons designed only to kill human beings out of our country might slow down this epidemic.
  • Carmela
    Well said.
  • Great article James.You are right about fear. Australia went through this on a smaller scale in 1996 leading to bans on assault weapons. Hunters can still own guns and shoot.
    • James Salwitz, MD
      Thanks. Any advise you have about how to change will be greatly appreciated. jcs
  • James, this tragedy had great impact on me personally (as father of a kindengartener). I have not been vocal until now, but for the first time, I put several thought pieces of facebook to ask my friends about their thoughts on how to change ourselves as a society. (just like you have hear). I suspect that my friends on facebook are too much alike me. I am not getting too many good ideas. I start with basic principles: 1. A society should be judged on how we care for the vulnerable.. so, in this case, five year olds (in case of our profession, its our patients who are vulnerable: many elderly and afraid), and what I have seen (and suspect we all have as physicians -- is the mentally ill. 2. WIth rights come responsibility. And in civilized society we must balance rights of all (which means giving up is much more important than getting more). I certainly have my views... as someone who never owned a gun, who lives in liberal central jersey, I don't understand the love of guns. I think those who have guns, they need to be responsible for keeping them safe. I saw somewhere that In Australia, they increased the safety by raising requirements of who can get guns (background checks, waiting periods; having 2 people sign confirming their financial and emotional). I think those are some things that can make it more likely that those who are not responsible won't own a gun. clearly, that won't solve all the problems. I do think that our mental health care has deteriorated and I have seen it in my patient care. I think as a society we need to see how we can treat these individuals better. They are a vulnerable population and should not be looked as "entitled" population and be frowned upon. I would love to hear your thoughts and continue this conversation. Either here or on facebook. BTW, Congratulations to you.... (boards!)
    • James Salwitz, MD
      It has always seemed to me that one of the unique features of the practice of medicine is that it is non confrontational. Nurses, doctors and patients do not try to "beat" or "defeat" those with whom we disagree. We try to work together to heal. However, in our society many issues, and very definitely gun control, are debated with confrontational "violence" as each side tries to aggressively stake out its claim. I think that beating violence with aggression is doomed to fail. I think a public health model, working together to solve gun deaths as a disease, may have the best chance of success. I think your point, to focus on protecting those most vulnerable, may have the greatest likelyhood of success. As long as each side simply "sticks to its guns", the children (and fireman, cops, mothers, sons...) will continue to die. Have a happy and safe New Year, jcs

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