OPINION: DR. MIKE MAY — The other side of the gun

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Growing up in Texas, I never gave much thought to the guns I encountered. No, there weren’t six-shooters on everyone’s hips, and my classmates and I didn’t ride horses to school, but yes, there were gun racks in trucks in the high school parking lot. There were guns in my dad’s closet, and I shot enough to have lost some high frequency hearing, but that was my sense of normal.

During my surgical residency in Dallas, I began to understand what happens on the other side of a gun. Not a single “trauma call” day elapsed without at least one, and sometimes up to 10, patients with gunshot wounds being brought to Parkland Hospital, where I spent every third night for five years. From the perspective of a surgical trainee, this was a fantastic way to learn my life’s work; many lives were saved, but many others were lost.

One day, as part of a trauma rotation, I went to “Ground West,” the part of Parkland where the pathology department, and thus the morgue, was located. The idea was to gain understanding of what we as surgeons hadn’t been able to accomplish, to see what might be done the next time, for the next patient, to secure a better outcome.

I looked down on a boy who was 15 years old and would never be 16. He looked like he was sleeping, but with two holes in his chest and one in his head, there would be no waking up. I’ll never forget the paradox of the dead boy and his live, ticking watch. I knew then, and know now, that guns kill.

Now I’m nearing 50, with three kids in Cd’A schools. I’m the Trauma Medical Director at Kootenai Health. Our trauma program, of which the community can be proud, saves lives. My colleagues and I train for but collectively dread the day we are called upon to treat victims of a mass shooting in our community. Sadly, I expect that awful day will, at some point, be upon us. On that day, we will bear the terrible burden of telling parents that their children are gone. Sixty-one percent of local teachers don’t want guns in classrooms. Boise schools, Idaho sheriffs and police chiefs don’t want guns in classrooms. Next time it comes up for possible adoption, likely in 2020, some legislators will again refuse to listen to the people this law would directly affect. Why?

Many readers may not be aware that Idaho school boards already have the authority to decide at the local level whether to arm their educators. A few rural communities have, in fact, done so.

Kootenai Health, the county’s largest employer, is a gun-free zone, as are our schools. Would you feel comfortable with your physician or nurse being armed as they lean over you to offer their care? I am certainly more comfortable knowing you aren’t armed as I do my best to help in your time of need.

I am aware of many well worn responses you might be thinking of as you read this, but I can critically address a few, as in my work I must deal with evidence-based practices to ensure good outcomes.

• It’s simply NOT true that Israeli teachers are all armed.

• It’s NOT been shown beyond individual, anecdotal reports that more good guys with guns would stop more bad guys with guns.

• It HAS been shown that the presence of a gun in a home increases the risk of homicide by a factor of three and suicide by up to a factor of five.

• It IS true that where there are more guns, there are more gun-related deaths.

• It IS true that we have seen a 400 percent increase in gunshot wounds at Kootenai Health since 2016. Additionally, we have a disturbingly large number of gun-related suicides locally each year.

If guns are allowed in schools, how will we institute and monitor proper training and safe storage? Who will pay for such logistic imperatives? How will law enforcement be able to distinguish between an active shooter and those attempting to intervene with guns drawn? Finally, who will deliver the news to a parent that their child has been killed by an accidental discharge at school?

I do know the answer to that one. It will be me.


Mike May, M.D. is a Coeur d’Alene resident and the trauma medical director at Kootenai Health.

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