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

assault weapons

Dr. Rob Davidson has more than two decades of experience in emergency medicine. A Democrat, he is seeking the west Michigan congressional seat of Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga. Davidson lives in Spring Lake and works in Fremont.

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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Thu, 10/05/2017 - 8:52am

There is one problem with this. Most, if not all, shooters have some mental health issue. We also have laws that protect patient medical records from eyes that should not see them.

The No Fly list has some error in it which is not easily corrected.

Most, and even the NRA, agree that felons should not have guns. We also have the 4th Amendment that protects from unreasonable search and seizure.

Background checks are good, but many mass shooters do not have anything in their background that would be a red flag to a gun purchase.

The United States were set up to protect citizens from the excess of government. Should we backtrack and remove some of those protections?

Nick Van Zanten
Sun, 10/08/2017 - 6:46pm

Well, Rich, that was more than one problem, but as I see it all are solvable; if only we could all agree, or at least most of us agree, oh right most of us, 80-90% think we should limit access to guns., but not for hunters and Olympic sharpshooters, and sports shooters, collectors, and all of those who just feel paranoid and need a gun for protection. Why not just vet those folks? And really scrutinize those others.

Dot Potter Barnett
Thu, 10/05/2017 - 9:16am

Until we send people to Congress who will support common-sense gun laws, such as those proposed here, we are fated to suffer more carnage.

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 3:02pm


Just like the good doctor, the hope is for a 'magic bullet' that will stop killings, you want a simple and instant answer. In this case both of you see the perfect solution in the gun, the inanimate object. The reality is that each such tragedy has been committed by a person and there is no one answer that can stop every such person.

In the case of the killer in Las Vegas, made a concerted effort to acquire the guns and ammunition and other materials he took to do all the harm he could. And just like those in gangs, and other murders they knowingly kill, knowingly breaking the law. Believing a law of any kind will stop them from the evil they want to do, is delusional or demonstrates a limited capacity to deal with reality or an inability to put thinking above emotions.
The reality is that people do not live in a vacuum, they associate with others who will see or heard indication of the person's attitude. To prevent such tragedies would be helping people recognize the telltale practices that indicate risks associated with murdering individuals, developing a means/methods for people to communicate such events or practices to individuals so they can be effectively evaluated [helping to prevent over reaction and risks to the concerned individuals] and present the information to people train to intervene before a tragic even happens.
I appreciate the good doctors knowledge and skills and commitment to treat people suffering the consequences of such events, but I wonder if he has had the opportunity to be trained or been part of teams that investigate incidents and are responsible for developing the means/methods to prevent their reoccurrence.
I understand the emotions such tragedies create, but emotional decisions time and again disrupt the critical thinking necessary to change/to prevent such tragedies.
Events such as in Las Vegas are not a spur of the moment action, they take planning and tasks to make such an event to happen. I would rather hear the Doctor suggesting that a team [with a diversity of knowledge and skills and perspectives] to analyze the events and actions that together set the stage for the killers to wreak their evil on others. Then have the team a create a map of the build up to such events identifying points in that map where an invention of particular action could disrupt the path to a tragic event preventing that event from happening.
It may sound easy to simply pass a law and believe that there will never again be such a tragedy, but in reality those bent on forcing their evil on others will not be stop by a law, especially when their efforts are to kill and maim, for they are intent on breaking long standing laws.

I expect when the Doctor is working in the ER he puts his emotions on hold and focuses on a disciplined evaluation and development of a plan of action before he begins to treat the suffering individual. That approach is what is needed here. Put emotions on hold and do a discipline assessment of this most recent tragedy and previous tragedies before claiming to have THE answer.

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 7:36pm

I apologize for not including my name, it was simply a too quick click on save [default is Anonymous rather than a reminder to fill in your name].

Ann Farnell
Thu, 10/05/2017 - 8:49pm

Is it not true that the ten year ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, 1985 to1995, reduced mass shootings to zero?

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 8:36am

Not true. Google Mother Jones, and they have a list of mass murders from 1982 to Las Vegas 2017. Lots of incidents in the time frame you mention, just like in all other years.

Ann Farnell
Fri, 10/06/2017 - 12:02pm

Thanks! Will do.

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 9:49am

It was from 1994 to 2004. It only banned sales of certain ones and as I understand it, a lot of it was cosmetic, items that made them look like assault rifles. I also heard hundreds, if not thousands came in across the southern border with illegal immigrants. There is no way to verify that though, except there were a lot of them around.

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 9:42pm

I agree that more needs to be done about identifying those who are intent on killing and maiming others. The roadblocks to getting them committed for evaluation make it very difficult.

Sat, 10/07/2017 - 4:27pm


Committing people for evaluation is surely means that should be developed. But how do we get people talking beyond the 'gun' and to the person picking up and using the gun and working about how to interrupt the a killing event.

How do we get people to realize all the talk about guns and laws hasn't changed anything so we need to start working on interrupting the people and their actions leading up to the killing event? How to we help those that see or hear things that raise concerns to step forward and share with professionals so they can decide how to act such as a professional evaluation of the potential killer? How do we define the means for interrupting that path to the killing event? What maybe needed are simple, seemly inconsequence, things that shows someone is interested, someone is paying attention, someone is listening may be that subtle change that prevents the killings. We have heard much about how the 'butterfly effect' and how it can change conditions far away, if people believe that is possible then why aren't we talking about how anyone of could create that 'butterfly effect' that prevents these horrendous killing events?

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 9:25am

The NRA is so protective they stop even public health initiatives. The CDC and ER physicians were proposing a study of gun deaths/violence as they would any outbreak/epidemic. To find ways to intervene, prevention. NRA lobbied congress to cut off funds to CDC as they saw it as an "attack" on gun rights and American constitution. This was years ago. It's only gotten more violent and deadly since.
The second amendment also says "well regulated" not anything goes. That seems to be what the NRA and the ones who back their credo want...anything goes.
All the gun rights people who show up en masse at rallies...regardless of their opinions on guns would be massively outnumbered if every person in America who has been affected by gun violence would stand, if they are not disabled or paralyzed.
Family, friends, neighbors, employers directly. Others indirectly thru increasing security measures, restrictions, pat downs, purse and luggage searches at events.
I don't want guns to disappear. I have a registered handgun. But it seems with these latest crusades of NRA regards silencers, armor piercing bullets, fear inducing videos that it's meant to 1..raise fear by suggestion and 2.. raise money for themselves.
They used to be an organization with common sense and education about gun safety. No more.

Chris Carpenter
Thu, 10/05/2017 - 9:26am

While your opponent might got $10,65, I am sure you get more money in bribes from unions for your campaign. Guns do not kill people. Sick people kill people. Hatred and lack of morals kill people. Prayer does help. Cars and trucks with drunk drivers kill people - but you do not call for controlling them. Should we have background check to buy a car or get a drivers license. Bold face lie that 90% people support background checks on all guns sales. Most people do not want them on rifles. Maybe you should stick with medicine because you would be a terrible congressman.

Ann Farnell
Thu, 10/05/2017 - 9:12pm

The issue today is not the right to own guns. That is settled as a right. The issue today is mass shootings. The fact that the public can no longer feel safe in schools, churches, nightclubs, concerts or theaters; not to mention a line in a parking lot to meet a congresswoman. So, we are not saliently talking handguns. We are talking semi- automatic weapons and those inventions which make a bad situation worse; boosters, armor piercing bullets, legalizing silencers, etc

. I don’t know the answers.

I do know that back in the day, cars were not built with safety in mind. A doctor got fed up with people torpedoing through plateglass windshields, or being impaled on pointy objects in steering wheels or knobs or stick shifts. The auto industry fought change with every rationale imaginable, but today you have shatterproof windshields, safety brakes, seatbelts, more thoughtfully designed interiors. Do people still die in accidents?Yes. Are people maimed? Yes. But more people survive then ever before.

I think we need to think about what helps people to survive ....the right of people to survive and what changes to gun regulations will advance survival.

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 12:03am

Yeah, because those damn unions kill sooooo many. And what their asking for, oh my god! You actually want to feed your family? Yes, cars do kill people. So, you would be in favor of regulating guns like cars? Register them, test the owners competency, track the ownership, and require liability insurance. A model for fair market capitalism.

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 10:23am

You are "sure" Dr. Davidson gets bribes from unions? Documentation and/or links, please.
Actually, cars are heavily regulated. You have to have a license and be insured to operate one. This should also be the case for guns.

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 9:35am

Nice article except ... how does this fit the Vegas story?

Shooter used weapons already banned
Shooter was not mentally ill
Shooter had no criminal background
Shooter was never in past trouble

Those points reflect the latest and I know they could evolve.

But given those are the facts, what does this story have to do with the Vegas shooter?

Legislation as therapy is never a good solution folks. The author is mad and wants things to change but his changes would not have impacted this situation. So again, what does this story have to do with Vegas?

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 10:47am

"Shooter used weapons already banned"
His weapons were not banned. He used bump stocks on legally available guns. Bump stocks are poorly regulated, and should be banned.
"Shooter was not mentally ill"
His actions clearly indicate that the shooter was mentally ill, although not diagnosed or treated, due to the wholly inadequate mental health care system in the US.
"Shooter had no criminal background"
True. Although if his high multiple gun purchases would have been illegal, and if he would have consequently been tracked (no loopholes), then he could have had his excessive number of guns seized, before this awful event happened.
"Shooter was never in past trouble"
See above.

It appears to me that Vegas has everything to do with the American gun culture, and that this story therefore has everything to do with Vegas.

John Dallas
Thu, 10/05/2017 - 9:40am

Silencers are already banned. Background checks are already required. Other than the optics, what is the reasoning behind eliminating armour piercing bullets? Suggest efforts be focussed on reducing gun violence in the cities, and that will only happen when there is a fundamental change in the values placed on human life.

Paul Jordan
Thu, 10/05/2017 - 10:04am

Amen. (And I'm a gun owner.)

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 10:15am

Much too logical and correct - yet properly reliant on your own experience dealing with hospital trauma cases.
The NRA is very much like the Drug {Big Pharma} Industry who buy by donation many Republicans and some Democrats. Everyone knows drug prices are incorrigibly and irrationally too high here in our nation compared to any other nation. Its very clear and documented that some politicians are being bought and have no conscience - no humanity - they just don't give a damn about their constituents! But they continue to be elected by us - the voters who in every election were screaming about righting the abysmal evident wrongs still go their polling place and re-elect local and national government officers who clearly don't respect the people who elect them. They clearly and openly don't represent the people who voted them in but there they sit disobeying our wishes and needs.
The voters have a responsibility to themselves and their families but time and time again fail to be educated voters. Sort of like repeatedly hitting your head against a steel beam and wondering why your head hurts then every election go out and do it again. And wonder why nothing changes. More voters should give damn. More voters shouldn't depend on Joe or Sam or Mary or Wolfgang to do the right thing for them because clearly they aint.
So not to beat this repeatedly to death - but we get what we deserve don't we?

Lawrence Abramson
Thu, 10/05/2017 - 10:21am

A cogent, articulate, non-histrionic commentary. Hopefully, the beginning of a reasoned discussion in many arenas to address the escalating carnage of firearms in this country.

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 10:29am

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.

So a mistake by Homeland Security (happens often) and rights denied.
A doctor makes a misdiagnosis (happens often) and rights denied
A person has a momentary lapse and considers suicide - a doctor makes the call - and rights denied

Its not that easy, denying rights. It should not be

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 11:14am

I am a fairly conservative gun owner, but am not a fan of the NRA and their extremist rhetoric. I agree with your point about mental health issues, and I feel that the role that mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse play in gun violence is under-emphasized. However, even after the carnage in Las Vegas, I continue to believe that the fundamental issue regarding gun control is that it really only impacts us law-abiding folks who hunt, target shoot, collect guns as a hobby, and/or want a gun for personal protection. If I want to obtain a gun, I will go to a licensed dealer, fill out the paperwork, and store it and use it in a safe manner. The thug who wants to rob, intimidate, and possibly kill people, or the mentally deranged person who for whatever reason believes he or she needs to kill people, is going to use other channels to obtain a gun. All the background checks, waiting periods, and paperwork in the world are not going to keep that person from getting their hands on a gun if they really want one. Criminals are just that, criminals, and they have little regard for laws of any kind. I don't pretend to know what the answer is, but I do not believe making it more difficult for people like me to purchase and keep a gun is going to solve the problem. I strongly believe that the divisive rhetoric from both the extreme left and the extreme right, the breakdown of the family unit, the prevalence of violence without consequences on TV, in video games and social media, and the high incidence of alcohol and drug abuse in our country are all contributing factors, and more gun control does not address any of these issues. Thoughts and prayers can help, especially if they lead us to action within our own families and communities. Let's engage in reasonable, adult conversations instead of shouting matches, and turn off the TV or leave the website when the talking heads start screaming at each other. Let's support candidates for office at all levels who embrace logic instead of rhetoric, either from the left or the right. Let's eat dinner as families, model and teach respect to our kids, and talk to our kids about drugs and alcohol, and the unintended consequences of their use. Let's support local programs that address these issues, like drug courts and sobriety courts. Let's model safe gun use, and teach our kids respect for and safe use of firearms. These are all small steps, but together they can have an impact. Making me go through a background check the next time I want to buy a gun will not.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 10/05/2017 - 12:32pm

Well, it certainly didn't take long before the ghouls started coming out of the woodwork and spouting off the tired rhetoric calling for (yet) even more restrictions on firearms to gain their fifteen minutes of fame. One would think that the backlash other democrats received over the ill-timing of their opinions would've been apparent by now.


Since Dr. Davidson strongly believes that more of the same is the cure (including things that ARE ALREADY IN PLACE like background checks) , then perhaps he can address why the places where they have been enacted have failed to address the problem?


DC, Chicago, LA and even nearby in Detroit (not exactly known for their support of 2A), still have shootings.





Maybe the criminals didn't get the memo that what they were doing was illegal?

That right there just might be a clue to the actual effectiveness of your ideas, Dr. Davidson.

Douglas Platt
Thu, 10/05/2017 - 12:36pm

As a physician you are aware of the HIPPA laws and therefore I presume you are in favor of somehow allowing the persons health data to be accessed via a background check so that those who have severe mental issues will be stopped from purchasing a firearm. Without access to this information a background check will not stop those with serious mental issues from acquiring a firearm.

William Berry
Thu, 10/05/2017 - 1:05pm

My hero of the day is Dr. Davidson. Everything he says makes sense to me. My thoughts and prayers are that somehow congress and the NRA will wake up and put a stop to the gun problem.

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 1:15pm

Thank you Rob. Now let's see how many gun nuts chime in...

Let's see: 'This isn't the time to discuss this...' , 'We need to pray for the victims and first responders (you're one) before we discuss this'., ....

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 2:28pm

Thank you, Doctor. Your viewpoint is important. I'm a Quaker and reject both guns and violence. Your proposals are steps in the right direction.

John Saari
Thu, 10/05/2017 - 9:00pm

Wild Game hunting type firearms only. These will work for self defense and right to bear arms enthusiasists.

John S.
Thu, 10/05/2017 - 9:29pm

The U.S. has a firearms homicide rate 6 1/2 times higher than other wealthy countries yet the dominant narrative is that guns aren't the problem, people are, and little can be done about it. Yes, and we're also to believe in the tooth fairy too. I fail to see why civilians have a 2nd Amendment right to purchase an AR-15 with a large magazine that can be modified to fire on automatic. Military weapons belong in an armory where they can be locked up. If people want to belong to a well-regulated militia, let them join the National Guard. They can spend a weekend each month cleaning their weapon and can get an opportunity to fire it at a range during the two-week summer camp.

John Q. Public
Fri, 10/06/2017 - 10:31am

The National Guard bears practically zero resemblance to a state militia as contemplated in the Second Amendment, and hasn't since at least the 1930s. Every aspect of the Guard is now controlled by the U.S. government, just like its standing army.

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 10:09am

Any legislation put forth will need to take in to consideration all decisions rendered by the Supreme Court on the 2nd Amendment because the constitutionality of it will be challenged. With unobstructed access to firearms coming across our southern border, any new legislation will only affect people wishing to purchase a firearm legally. I say this as over 99% of all crimes are committed with an illegal or stolen firearm.

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 10:15am

Thank you, Dr. Davidson. Well done and I hope you win.

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 1:11pm

Apparently we can assume the doctor is pro abortion.

Sat, 10/07/2017 - 8:30am

And how would any of your suggestions change anything? I don't see it. Mental health is a monster catch all for those who realize there's little they can do. Secondly, you clearly learned everything you know about suppressors "silencers" from watching movies. Not even remotely close to the truth of the matter. If you lived near a shooting range you would definitely appreciate the small relief they would bring to the matter. Good luck with your run and I hope the MDP gives you millions for your effort!

Sat, 10/07/2017 - 8:58pm

Ban military assault style weapons, kits that enable them to become fully automatic, limit magazines to 10 rounds, no sale until you pass a background check and mommy doesn't get to keep guns in the house when her mentally disabled son lives with her. I still get to keep all of my guns so no infringement on my rights.

Sun, 10/08/2017 - 8:57am

Those of us reading this who agree with what you say need to contribute to your campaign to offset the $10,650 your opposition took from the NRA. I will be looking for your website to do that. Thanks for your courage.

Nick Van Zanten
Sun, 10/08/2017 - 6:06pm

Soldiers and sailors, in time of war, go into battle, prepared to lay down their lives for the good of their side. But here in America, gun supporters won't budge an inch for anyone's good other than their own.

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