Dead Children and Guns

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Commentary – February 2013 

Tex Med. 2013;109(2):7.

By Jason Terk, MD  

I cannot bear to think about it anymore. And, three days ago, I could scarcely allow the news of the killing of 20 children in a Connecticut elementary school to invade my consciousness as I worked treating sick children with influenza and babies with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). But, the busyness of practice slows down on the weekends, and I have not been able to keep my mind from turning to the events of that awful day.

As a pediatrician and a father, I find that I simply cannot process that children no different from my own and the ones I treat came to such a violent and horrific end in a place that should have been completely safe for them. I cannot think what it must have been like for fellow parents to perform the task of telling a surviving child that his or her sibling has died.

And so, I have retreated to a safer, more analytic place of repose. I go there to strip painful things of their emotions so that I can continue to do what people expect of me as a man, father, doctor, etc.

And so, the fruits of my analysis (and catharsis) are submitted for your consideration. No one can deny that we in America reside in a culture that highly values guns and the near-limitless ability to possess them. It is a value that is written into the DNA of our nation as the second amendment to our Constitution. And, through the years, the "right to bear arms" has been interpreted and exercised more absolutely than almost any other founding principle of our country. Virtually any real or imagined check on the unconditional freedom to possess guns has been viewed as the most perilous slippery slope threatening one of our most cherished liberties. So whatever I think about guns must be reconciled with this reality.

But there is a reckoning that I think has not yet been properly articulated. There are consequences for the choices we as citizens make. The freedom to possess guns and ammunition of practically any destructive capacity without infringement creates a reality that must include tragedies of this sort from time to time. And when we highly resolve to defend this liberty, we must affirmatively accept these consequences as well. If we are to be truly honest with ourselves and true to this dearly held principle, we must say that we accept that some of our children will necessarily die as innocents to adhere to this principle as we do.

It cannot be any other way. We will always have people in our society who are mentally ill, antisocial, or simply evil, and they will have access to guns because that is the culture we have chosen. It is intellectually dishonest to think otherwise. And, it is preposterous to say that we have a mental health system that can take care of these people well enough to protect our innocents or that we have the will to create such a system with guns as accessible as they are.

So let us continue to say what we believe … only make sure that we say all of it. We will defend absolute gun freedom and accept that some of our children will die. And, when they do, we will be sorry and feel the pain once more but know that it was a planned loss.

 Dr. Terk is a pediatrician in Keller and is chair of the TMA Council on Science and Public Health. His commentary originally appeared on TMA's MeandMyDoctor blog  on Dec. 17. 

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