Kristof Asks the Right Question: Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?


by Patricia Salber

Pat Salber, MD, MBA, Host of The Doctor Weighs In & CEO, Health Tech Hatch

I am watching CNN reporters interview various folks about the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut.  Everyone is tip-toeing around the gun issue.  People are saying “we need to come together” – and we do.  “We need to have more mental health services” – yes, we certainly do.  “Maybe we need to put police guards in schools,” one guy suggested. Really?  I am not so sure about this one.

I say we need to do something about the guns.  Contrary to the NRA-inspired rhetoric, that we all know so well guns, particularly high powered weapons like the Bushmaster .223 implicated in this particular massacre, do kill people, a they enable murderers to kill lot of them- quickly.

In fact, more in the US than in any other country. But I wonder, as Nicholas Kristof asks in his NY Times column, “Do we have the courage to stop this [madness]?”  Or are we going to continue to allow the lobby for gun dealers (aka the NRA) buy our politicians and brainwash the right.

Nick Kristof, Columnist, New York Times

Why,” Kristof says, “can’t we regulate guns as seriously as we do cars?  The fundamental reason kids are dying in massacres like this one is not that we have lunatics or criminals — all countries have them — but that we suffer from a political failure to regulate guns.”

He notes that, “We…regulate toy guns, by requiring orange tips — but lawmakers don’t have the gumption to stand up to National Rifle Association extremists and regulate real guns as carefully as we do toys.”

“What,” he asks, “do we make of the contrast between heroic teachers who stand up to a gunman and craven,  feckless politicians who won’t stand up to the N.R.A.?”

Some stats from the Kristof piece:

  • Firearms claim one life every 20 minutes
  • More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has five pages of regulations about ladders, while federal authorities shrug at serious curbs on firearms. Ladders kill around 300 Americans a year, and guns 30,000.
  • Australia banned certain rapid fire long guns after a 1996 mass killing that left 35 people dead.  The also implemented a “national firearms agreement,” that led to the buyback of 650,000 guns and to tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands. In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings — but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect. The murder rate with firearms has dropped by more than 40 percent, according to data compiled by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and the suicide rate with firearms has dropped by more than half.
  • Canada requires a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun, and it imposes a clever safeguard: gun buyers should have the support of two people vouching for them.

“So what can we do,” asks Kristof? He suggests a “starting point would be to limit gun purchases to one a month, to curb gun traffickers.”  Sorry, Nicholas, this is too wimpy.  We should outright ban assault weapons ownership by the general population.  They simply have no place in a civilized society.  If a gunner really wants to shoot one off at a shooting range, fine, let him/her do that in a carefully controlled environment, but the gun stays at the range under lock and key.

We regulate alcohol (age limits, in some states, like Texas, there are regulations that prohibit buying booz on Sunday mornings, you can’t drink and drive). We regulate cars (seat belts, air bags, child seats, and crash safety standards).  We regulate cigarettes, toxins, recreational drugs, food production, pharmaceuticals, etc. etc. etc.  So why can’t we regulate guns?

We can, but we have to demand it of our politicians, policy makers, and…most of all ourselves.


  1. People kill people and GUNS make it so very, very much easier.

    Look at this 31 year old handgun violence poster and notice how relevant it is today.

    We are alone in the civilized world in this psychosis and inaction on this issue has always been a stain on our society. The rest of the world thinks we are crazy. We are not … we just allow our crazies to have guns like a normal person puts cream in their coffee. Time to end the madness.

    Or … what do we wait for next? Someone shooting up a nursing home … how about a hospital nursery … going from crib to crib killing newborns with a pistol? What in god’s name could we possibly be waiting for.

    Dike Drummond MD

    • Dike, you are so right. What are we waiting for? These attacks are becoming more frequent. Targeting 6 year olds is indeed a low point – but as you point out, perhaps not the lowest someone out of his mind (almost always young white males) and armed to the teeth with assault weapons will do.

      I agree we need to do something about mental health services in this country, but right now we to do the best we can to be sure that folks who shouldn’t have guns don’t have guns. We need to reinstitute the assault weapons ban – Dianne Feinstein plans on introducing a bill in the Senate to do this on the first day of the next congress. She announced that it would also be introduced in the House. We need to support her in this by writing our representatives and telling them we want this bill passed.

      But that is not enough. We should support Michael Bloomberg in his efforts to counter the power of the NRA on our legislators.

      We can do this, but we need to be focused (not diverted by the many many things that need to be done to reduce violence) and we need to be persistent. And, above all, we must not forget what happened as the days and weeks go by. That is what the Gun Lobby is counting on. Pat

  2. It is time for the medical community to start leading on gun violence. Notice I didn’t say gun control. How it is phrased means everything. Don’t offer specific solutions yet; just present the problem as we see it as physicians. Guns in the home, lack of funding for education, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness which we see so often in the ER, media, video games TV and movies promoting gun violence (have you seen Skyfall? We are just getting inured to this stuff). It all contributes. This is a public health emergency. Speak up.