Saturday, August 25, 2012

Gun Control

As a student at a school of medicine and public health, I felt compelled to write about gun control, especially in light of recent events. The lack of strict gun control in the United States is a public health crisis.

In a recent Time article, Fareed Zakaria eloquently argued for gun control. He reports that the gun homicide rate per capita in the United States is 30 times higher than in Britain and Australia, 10 times higher than in India, and four times higher than in Switzerland! Why is this? Is it possible that the United States has more people that are psychologically debilitated? This seems unlikely. The answer appears to be the number of guns. In the United States there are 88.8 firearms per 100 people compared to 54.8 in Yemen, 45.7 in Switzerland, 45.3 in Finland, and all other countries have fewer than 40. Zakaria also reports that crime in America has significantly decreased in the past few decades with the exception of one category of crime: firearm homicides, whose rate has not changed in the past few decades.

Critics claim that gun control is unconstitutional, namely because it violates the 2nd Amendment’s right to bear firearms. To that, I urge you to consider the initial motivation behind the 2nd Amendment and the ruling by the Supreme Court in United States v. Miller. The actual text of the 2nd Amendment is as follows: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Note the word “militia,” which the Supreme Court explained to mean a group of people enrolled for military discipline, and that when they were called for service they would appear bearing arms supplied by themselves. Therefore, the 2nd Amendment refers to bearing arms in the military intended for the protection of the country, not bearing arms for private purposes. The Supreme Court seriously overstepped when they declared in District of Columbia v. Heller that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear a gun.

Critics also claim that gun control will not decrease gun violence or even violence in general. People will still be able to obtain guns on the black market. Also, there will still be just as much crime, but the only difference is that people will use weapons other than guns. However, this argument is not cogent. Having a gun in the home allows you to act on impulse and to complete an act that you might not have otherwise done. An article in the Journal of Epidemiology reported that people with guns in the home were at a greater risk than those without guns of dying from a homicide in the home. Furthermore, according to an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry, most people who commit suicide are ambivalent about doing so. Having a gun makes it so much easier for people to commit suicide if they are ambivalent.

For the health and safety of our country, our leaders would be wise to enact stricter gun control laws. The risks gun control are very minimal, or perhaps nonexistent, because doing so will only decrease gun violence. The only downside of gun control is that our freedom is slightly limited, to which I respond by saying that sometimes we have to make sacrifices for the greater good.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reflections on My First Day of Medical School

Today was the first day of what I hope will be a very exciting and rewarding medical career. My very first instructors were patients, which I think is really incredible. It made me realize that much of my medical education will come from the patients I see. A group of about 10 patients with diseases such as ovarian cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease came to speak with us. One by one, these patients walked to the front of the lecture hall and told us about their diseases. The whole setting was very dramatic. Then we broke up into smaller groups and got to ask the patients more personal questions.

The first patient I got to talk with had battled depression most of her life. Today she taught me that we should not be afraid to talk to people with mental illness about their condition. There is quite a stigma associated with mental illness, and we often feel like it is inappropriate for us to discuss this with the affected individual. Additionally, sometimes we do not know how to handle it or what to say. Asking the individual about their illness shows that you care. Furthermore, she spoke very highly of her psychiatrist and said that the psychiatrist had confidence in her. I will try to remember to always have confidence in my patients and their ability to improve.

The second patient I talked with had contracted Polio at a young age and had been in a wheelchair nearly her whole life. Today she taught me that we should never shy away from trying to include people with disabilities. Oftentimes we will not invite disabled people to events, gatherings, or parties because we feel that the disabled people might not fit in. It is bad enough that these people have disabilities, and not inviting them only makes it worse. We should always extend the invitation and allow the disabled person to decide whether or not he/she will attend.

Right from day one, I feel I have learned how to be a better doctor, and this knowledge did not come from my professors, but from patients. It was definitely a day I will remember for the rest of my life.