On November 7th, 2018, in response to an American College of Physicians’ position statement on reducing firearm injuries and deaths, the NRA tweeted that “someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.”
As the prime individuals who care for victims of gun violence, physicians collectively were incensed by such an inflammatory stance.
In response to the NRA’s tweet, Dr. Joseph Sakran, Director of Emergency General Surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital–himself a victim of gun violence when he was shot in the throat and nearly died at the age of 17–launched the Twitter campaign, @ThisIsOurLane.
This led to an epic year of activism against gun violence, raising the pressure on lawmakers to make changes. While bump stocks were banned earlier this year, achieving universal background checks and newly proposed measures to appropriate federal funding to study gun violence have yet to become law.
@Thisisourlane now has over 30,000 twitter followers. Striving to make further changes, #EndGunViolence was also launched and has become a growing voice in the movement.
I interviewed Dr. Sakran, recently selected as a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow, to get the latest updates on efforts to reduce gun violence.
What are the main updates for @ThisIsOurLane movement?
One year ago, the NRA communicated with the world that doctor’s had no business to be part of the solution around gun violence prevention. That moment led to a movement, a movement that you united clinicians from all walks of life in communities all across this nation. The social media platform allowed clinicians to have, and at times find their voice around this public health crisis.
This led to a grassroots effort that resulted in the medical community being involved at numerous level whether it was raising public awareness through their local community or testifying in front of congress. The public for the first time were able to hear and feel what we as healthcare professionals have faced on the frontline of this public health problem. We also realized that we had the responsibility to function in caring for patients not just when they were brought into our trauma centers, but in a manner that allows us to approach this issue from a prevention perspective.
The movement led to the American College of Surgeons bringing together for the first time 44 medical and legal organizations across the country for the inaugural firearm summit. Since then we have worked to break down the silos among the gun violence prevention community including (Brady, Giffords, March for Our Lives, Moms Demand Action, Newtown Action Alliance, and others), raised public awareness through a variety forms of media, and engaged our elected officials including upcoming Presidential candidates.
Has there been any legislative progress in getting the NRA to find workable approaches to diminish the ongoing death toll? In your opinion, what are the main barriers to instituting universal background checks? What are the next legislative hurdles or gun control legislation? assault rifles?
Most governing in America happens at the local and state level. In 2018, nearly 67 pieces of gun legislation around common sense gun reform passed in states all across this country. We have pushed for change at the federal level as well. In 2019, the House has passed two bills that should be highlighted.
One is the Bipartisan Background check act of 2019 that is meant to close the loopholes that currently exist. The second is providing 50 million dollars of federal funding for gun violence prevention research, 25 of which would go to the CDC and 25 to the NIH. Both of these [pieces of legislation] have still not been brought up in the Senate and are not supported by the NRA despite the fact that the majority of Americans, gun owners, and NRA members support these type of reforms. This underpins the fact that a disparity exists between the leadership of the gun lobby and the membership, leaving us with one conclusion. The leadership of the NRA does not really represent their members.
There are numerous issues as it relates to passing legislation federal level. It’s clear to me that their is a false narrative that exists in this country making it appear that we as Americans are so polarized as it relates to common sense gun reform. The reality is that as Americans we have a lot more in common than we have that divides us. Part of the problem that has existed within our system of government is the influx of money within the campaigns.
Since Citizens United, we have seen a tremendous amount of money being utilized to sway the perception and behavior of our elected officials. Their does appear to be a paradigm shift around this country. This is demonstrated by a number of things, for example the fact that our presidential candidates are not simply discussing the issue of gun violence but have included measures as a central part of their platform.
Can you discuss any recent or proposed gun violence research from your institution or others?
At Johns Hopkins Hospital, we have partnered with our Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to look at what we are calling the “intensity of violence”. Reporting suggests that over past few decades the number of times people are shot have increased, as has the number of headshots. We are looking at this scientifically by reviewing homicides over the past 15 years in Maryland in an extremely granular manner to determine exactly how and if the pattern of injury is changing.
We also recently published a study with our colleagues from the University of Arizona. The study was a 5 year review of the Nationwide Readmission Database that aimed to examine the effect of different types of firearms on readmission due to acute stress disorder (ASD) and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in firearm-injury victims. We found that apart from the lives lost, survivors of semiautomatic rifle and shotgun-related injuries suffer long-term mental health sequalae. These secondary and debilitating mental health outcomes are important considerations for capturing the overall burden of the disease.
Have you thought about running for elected office to help promote change?
Working as a trauma surgeon at the nexus of medicine, public health, and public policy is tremendously rewarding. The dedication to public service goes beyond caring for the injured patient, but ensuring that we develop and train the next generation of healthcare professionals.
The medical community has such an important voice around this issue. We must understand that taking a data-driven approach is critical. However, the translation of this public health problem to the lay public must be done in a manner that goes beyond simply discussing data and highlighting the stories of our patients which allow us to develop a narrative that resonates with the public.