As a pediatric infectious diseases physician, I am regularly asked questions about contagious diseases and the one that invokes the most fear is Ebola. Rightfully so, this disease has an extremely high mortality rate and is easily transmitted from person to person.
There have been no outbreaks of Ebola in the United States, but enormous resources are allocated to ensure that lives are not lost. On the other hand, firearm violence in the United States is a daily occurrence and is one of our greatest health problems. We have sadly exceeded 34,000 deaths alone from firearms this year.
On a daily basis, children and adults are wounded and permanently disabled both physically and mentally. The impact is widespread, affecting our families, friends, communities and hospitals across our country for many years and sometimes a lifetime after a shooting. Firearms will continue to kill and injure far more people than Ebola ever will. Violence spreads like an infectious disease.
Once again, as I sat today during lunch with colleagues, I watched headlines flashing on television of another school shooting in Santa Clarita, Calif.— lives again destroyed and a community changed forever. The questions playing over and over in my head: When is this going to end? When will we stop killing each other in this country? When will our legislators pass effective policy to stop this carnage? When will my colleagues and I see the day when we no longer routinely see bloodshed in our emergency departments, operating rooms, intensive care units and morgues? Our country has turned into a battlefield.
In the span of my 25-year career, I never sat back and ignored diseases that threatened the lives of children and our society. Physicians and scientists address communicable disease threats with solutions and effective health care policies and to do otherwise would be unacceptable in the United States of America. The same must hold true for the epidemic of firearm violence.
Firearm violence will not stop unless effective policies are implemented and existing policies are enforced to keep our children safe from mass shootings, daily urban violence, unintentional shootings of children, and suicides. There should be nothing stopping us from taking urgent action, as there is already outstanding firearm research to develop sound policy. It is unacceptable for elected officials to politicize this epidemic and their continued inaction is absolutely unacceptable. We need brave individuals to stand up to protect the future of our children in this country.
David M. Berman is a pediatric infectious diseases specialist in St. Petersburg.