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Opinion | Thoughts and prayers won’t stop America’s gun carnage

When a person riddled with bullets enters the ER, the trauma team must sometimes crack open the victim’s chest cavity to find the source of bleeding. A bullet fired from a high-powered gun, like the one used in Las Vegas, or Sandy Hook or at Virginia Tech, typically tears through skin and flesh, lacerates arteries and crumbles bones. That bullet could pierce vital organs. It could shatter lungs, kidneys, brains.

Imagine hundreds of those bullets. Imagine them raining down at high velocity on people who, just hours earlier got in their cars, met their friends, posted selfies on Instagram with Jason Aldean in the background. Imagine those bullets smashing into nearly 600 people, obliterating organs, breaking bones, severing arteries. More than 50 of those people died in the span of just a few minutes.

I know what those bullets did to those people. I’m an ER physician. Alone during one night shift, I’ve had to crack open another human being’s chest, a victim of gun violence. I’ve seen how arbitrary, how senseless, how brutal a bullet can be.  

I also know the people of Michigan and this nation are tired of the platitudes that inevitably follow each mass shooting. Our leaders must do more than tweet their thoughts and prayers. Americans are holding our breath, anxiously awaiting the next Charleston, the next Pulse nightclub, the next Las Vegas.

Too many families today are asking themselves why Congress won’t pass tougher protections for people against gun violence. We rightfully ask why, even as the death toll is likely to climb in Las Vegas, some members of Congress are considering allowing armor-piercing bullets that hunters are not likely to need, or silencers that only put police officers on the street in more danger.

Every time someone offers a proposal to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them – criminals, domestic abusers, patients with mental illnesses – fierce partisan roadblocks go up, courtesy of the NRA, whose extremist agenda to effectively remove all protections from gun violence is abhorrent to a majority of Americans. Yet, the gun lobby continues to prevail. Gun makers’ profits skyrocket after every mass shooting.

The gun lobby has pumped more than $74,000 into the campaign coffers of Michigan’ current congressional delegation, including $10,650 for my local congressman, Bill Huizenga. [Disclosure: The author has announced plans to seek Huizenga’s congressional seat]

Gun makers are getting rich. Political insiders are getting paid off. They all have blood on their hands, and America knows it.

Until the people we send to Congress understand that what’s required of them is action, not just prayers and thoughts, we will all be at risk. Every time we go to a concert. Every time our children go to school. Every time our parents go to church.

When a lunatic opens fire with a high-powered rifle from 32 floors up, we are all powerless. As Caleb Keeter, the guitarist of the Josh Abbott Band and onetime full-throated supporter of the right to carry no matter what, said after he witnessed the carnage in Las Vegas: “We actually have members of our crew with (concealed handgun licenses), and legal firearms on the bus. They were useless.”

So are the men and women we send to Washington to uphold our Constitution, to preserve our inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, yet allow guns to take all that away from our families in a hail of ammo.

Here are a few modest proposals to help stem the carnage.

If mental health is at the root of gun violence, let’s get serious about mental illness and treat it as the public health crisis that has been ignored for far too long. I see it up close in my emergency room, I see it in our communities, I see it in our schools. We can open the door to behavioral medicine for all by ensuring every American has health care, including the 9 million low-income kids who depend on the Children’s Health Insurance Program that Congress recently allowed to expire.

If background checks are decried as toothless, let’s give it some real bite. Let’s conduct background checks for all firearms sales, something 90 percent of Americans support.

Let’s ban firearms sales to people on the no-fly list. Let’s keep guns away from people diagnosed with severe mental illnesses and those with suicidal or homicidal ideations. Let’s ban silencers and armor piercing bullets.

Here’s the challenge to Congress: Let's really value and protect life. Let's protect the premise of our Constitution and the tenets our Declaration of Independence: namely life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in any public space, at any event, anywhere, anytime without the fear of slaughter.

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