As a neurosurgeon at a busy urban Level 1 trauma center in Kentucky, I am on the frontline treating the victims of gun violence far too often. I witness firsthand the devastation, both emotional and physical, that these senseless injuries cause.
Gunshot wounds to the brain and spine are often non-survivable, leaving us, as physicians, to deliver the worst imaginable news. We hold the hands of crying spouses and hand tissue boxes to sobbing parents who cannot understand how a trip to the convenience store means their 18-year-old son, who was supposed to be starting college in the fall, is never coming home again.
My colleagues and I have quietly cried in deserted hallways because we could not save someone’s child or mother or brother. We grieve with each and every victim.
And for those who do survive, their futures hold innumerable painful surgeries, weeks on life support in the intensive care unit, months in rehabilitation facilities and long-lasting psychological impacts that we cannot imagine.
Some have to learn to speak or walk again, while others must come to terms with the fact that they will spend the rest of their lives paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Many have such severe brain injuries that they will require a breathing tube and 24-hour care for the rest of their lives.
These patients and their families inspire me to fight for evidence-based solutions to reduce gun violence and draw me to the mission of organizations, like WhitneyStrong, that fight for this. I cannot accept that gun violence is a divisive and partisan issue in our state. Having personally seen the impact of gun violence on so many young patients, their loved ones and our community, I believe there must be something we can do to address this public health crisis.
Back in February, legislation to reduce gun violence was introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly. The Crisis Aversion and Rights Retention Bill (Senate Bill 229) was developed to create a legal pathway to temporarily separate a person in crisis from their firearm. This is meant to prevent tragedies, to save lives and to help those in crisis.
I, like so many of our community members, care deeply about these issues and want our legislators to pass laws that will help reduce gun violence in our state. A recent statewide poll found that eight out of ten Kentuckians support their legislator voting in favor of the Crisis Aversion and Rights Retention Bill.
Some continue to say that we do not need such legislation. But all you need to do is turn on the news or read the paper to see that gun violence is not only still very much a problem, but in many ways is escalating as firearm deaths are becoming numbingly common. The deadly mass shooting in a Boulder supermarket took place less than a week after eight people were killed by a gunman in Georgia. This escalation is something that is far too familiar to me through my work at an urban trauma center.
My patients’ stories need to be heard, and action needs to be taken to reduce firearm related injuries and deaths. 65% of all gun deaths in Kentucky are caused by suicide, and separating a person in crisis from their firearm will make a difference. The state’s firearm death rate is 1.38 times higher than the national average, which is extraordinary given that the overall firearm death rate in the United States is 11 times higher than in other high-income countries.
Unfortunately, the Crisis Aversion and Rights Retention Bill did not receive the attention it deserved during this year’s legislative session. But we must not give up on passing legislation that will protect our communities while offering people in crisis the support services they need.
People are losing their lives to gun violence at an alarming rate in our country. Parents are grieving the loss of their children. Spouses are left alone. Children are without parents. We must continue working to ensure that the Crisis Aversion and Rights Retention Bill is passed. We must not become numb to these preventable tragedies.
And most importantly we should honor the lives so tragically lost by helping to prevent the unnecessary deaths of others by separating those in crisis from firearms and working to provide them with the mental health resources they need so that gun ownership may again be safe.
Dr. Emily Sieg is a neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville Hospital and the director of neurotrauma. She can be emailed at email@example.com