Protecting the rights of concealed-weapons permit holders?

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Where I live, on February 21, 2013 the issue of gun control resulted in an emergency session by the Maine Legislature, and a bipartisan resolution to enact a new law that will make identifying information of concealed-weapons permit holders private. It was the direct result of a perfectly legal request by a local newspaper last week for information on these permits. The resulting public furor, as well as a not-so subtle threat to withdraw advertising, prompted a hasty withdrawal of the request.

Within days, a bill was submitted and voted into law to protect Maine citizens’ privacy. To my knowledge, there is little if any precedent for such speedy action, nor for the absence of any meaningful debate or public hearing. This is in stark contrast to, for instance, legislation to reduce drug costs for seniors and people with disabilities, or the $484 million in overdue Medicaid reimbursements the state owes to Maine hospitals.

Since Newtown, more than a thousand people have died in the USA from gun related injuries. Added today: Three people dead and at least three others injured after a shooting in Las Vegas. Meaningful statistics on gun ownership and their relationship to gun related deaths are not available or inaccurate. Despite overwhelming evidence from around the world that gun-ownership promotes gun related deaths, in America every time there is another death in US, the killer is either a criminal or insane (or both), and responsible law-abiding gun owners are either described as sportsmen or home and family defenders – that is, until they turn into insanely criminal killers.

As a surgeon who has been involved in the treatment of gun related injuries, I don’t really care about any of these kinds of debates. I do care however about lowering the number of resulting injuries and deaths. A NY Times editorial on January 16, 2013 by John Howard, a former Prime Minister of Australia who introduced gun control legislation in 1996, stated:

“… (Since) 1996 (gun control) reforms not only reduced the gun-related homicide rate, but also the suicide rate. The Australian Institute of Criminology found that gun-related murders and suicides fell sharply after 1996. The American Journal of Law and Economics found that our gun buyback scheme cut firearm suicides by 74 percent. In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered 13 gun massacres — each with more than four victims — causing a total of 102 deaths. There has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996.”

From this and overwhelming other information available, it seems reasonable to assume that fewer guns will result in fewer gunshots fired in anger and thus fewer deaths and other injuries.

In Maine, this is not a concern of the legislature. They should however be interested in reducing the economic costs: In 1997 gunshot totals in the USA included $40 billion in medical, public services, and work-loss costs. Across medically treated cases, costs averaged $154,000 per gunshot survivor. It is of interest to note there is no more recent data available, but I would estimate these costs have more than doubled since. Isn’t that more important to debate than the NRA’s argument that “only people kill people”?

I already knew that. Compare this to car-accident-related deaths and injuries and associated safety regulations.


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