With gun rights should come accountability

From an article in the British Columbia Medical Journal:

The practice of bloodletting began around 3,000 years ago … It was believed that existence was represented by the four basic elements–earth, air, fire, and water–which in humans were related to the four basic humors: Blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile.

According to this theory, being ill meant having an imbalance of the four humors. Therefore, treatment consisted of removing an amount of the excessive humor by … bloodletting, purging, catharsis, diuresis and so on.

All of this sounds weird to us today, but this was the accepted practice for a long time.

From the notes of Tobias Lear, who was present for George Washington’s final hours:

“On Dec. 13, 1799, George Washington awoke with a bad sore throat and began rapidly declining. A proponent of bloodletting, he asked to be bled the next day, and physicians drained an estimated 5 to 7 pints in less than 16 hours. At one point, Mrs. Washington objected to the amount of blood being drained, and Washington replied, ‘more, more.'”

Again, from an article in the British Columbia Medical Journal:

There were skeptics to the practice as far back as the 16th century, and studies done in the 18th and 19th centuries evaluating the outcome questioned the benefit.

However, “that bloodletting survived for so long is not an intellectual anomaly–it resulted from the dynamic interaction of social, economic, and intellectual pressures, a process that continues to determine medical practice.”

This history was brought to mind when I thought about the current gun violence debate.

On May 27, 2022, when addressing the NRA conference in Houston mere days after a teenage gunman cut down 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, Donald Trump said gun-free school zones leave victims with no means to defend themselves. He went on to say, “As the age-old saying goes, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

What Mr. Trump was actually doing was parroting Wayne LaPierre’s words at a press conference the NRA held after the Sandy Hook massacre (2012) and again after the Parkland shootings (2018).

In both the request to let out more blood and to advocate for an increase in the number of guns, I am reminded of another so-called age-old saying: “The definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over again and expecting different results.”

And while it is true that a bad guy with a gun has been and will be able to be stopped by a good guy with a gun, it is not the “only” way.

Alternatively, some people (Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Wayne LaPierre and Former President Trump) want us to think that the answer is mental illness.

From John Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions:

Myth: Mental illness causes gun violence and mass shootings.

Fact: Mental illness is not a significant risk factor for or a predictor of interpersonal violence. Most people with mental illness do not engage in violence against others, and most violence is caused by factors other than mental illness.

Quite the contrary, exposure to gun violence can cause mental illness (i.e., PTSD).

In Psychology Today:

A University of Texas Medical Branch study found that “all the mental health symptoms considered, only impulsivity was associated with gun carrying and only hostility was associated with threatening someone with a gun.” The author then states: “Let me remind you again that hostility and impulsivity are not mental illnesses but general personality traits.”

This all sounds like George Washington’s request for more bloodletting with the gun lobby dancing around the real point: We have become a gun culture, and we have too many guns. As with bloodletting, our gun culture is “the dynamic interaction of social, economic, and intellectual pressures.” It took years for this strident position to take hold and it will take years for it to unravel. Maybe at some time in the future, we will look back on the call for more guns the same way we look at George Washington’s call for “more, more” bloodletting today.

Since it appears as if the current interpretation of the Second Amendment is here to stay, at least until “the dynamic interaction of social, economic, and intellectual pressures” change, I would urge that the way to stop the ever-increasing cycle of gun violence is to back off from calls for gun control and instead to focus on what I think is a fundamentally conservative core value: With rights come responsibility and accountability. Yes, you can own pretty much any kind of firearm; the Supreme Court is on your side. But you, as a gun owner, need to be responsible for how your gun is used and held accountable for any misuse.

If a child finds your pistol in the nightstand and shoots himself or someone else, you are responsible. If your firearm is stolen and used in a crime, you may be held responsible. If you loan your firearm to someone or sell it without a thorough background check, you are responsible for any misuse. And the next step is to hold you accountable both civilly and legally for the damage caused by your lack of appropriate caution. You can expect to be sued by those injured or by the families of those killed, you can expect to be sued for the property damages (you may be required to have insurance). And you can expect jail time and other legal penalties commensurate with the severity of the violent event, even though you were only indirectly responsible.

— — —

David J. Staszak lives in Saranac Lake.


BCMJ, vol. 52, No. 1, January-February 2010, Pages 12-14 Premise, By: Gerry Greenstone, MD.

Tobias Lear’s Record of George Washington’s Death, George Washington’s Mount Vernon

“How the ‘good guy with a gun’ became a deadly American fantasy,” PBS NewsHour

Psychology Today online June 19, 2019


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