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President's Message: Where Do We Go From Here?
Posted on: 1/1/2013
Werner - regular
ISMS President
William N. Werner, MD  

The mass shootings and the increase in homicides in recent months have elevated the national discussion on the issue of guns and violence. As physicians, we are certainly involved in the direct treatment of the victims of gun violence whether they are patients in our emergency rooms or the collateral damage that gun violence has on survivors and families. But we must also consider violence in our society as a public health issue.

A recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal focused on the matter of murder-suicide. The author, Peter Marzuk, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, has studied these crimes in an attempt to understand the actual incidence, underlying causes and possible prediction and prevention. His first recommendation is to establish a national monitoring system based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Violent Death Reporting System. This would help to provide a registry to track murder-suicides and, hopefully, identify patterns and profiles of at-risk individuals.

Dr. Marzuk also recommends in-depth psychological "autopsies" in an attempt to understand a shooter’s state of mind and motives. This review could also include postmortem study of brains to identify any physical or physiologic factors that contribute to violent behaviors. One concern with these proposals, however, is that they would require time and resources, with no guarantee that such research would yield any actionable findings or outcomes.

Given the current acrimonious responses when the issue of gun violence is broached, can we even have a reasonable, rational debate at this time? What can we do as physicians to decrease the risk of violence in our communities? 

I would like to hear your ideas and thoughts about these issues as they relate to our professional and private lives. Send me an email at DrWerner@isms.org to share your thoughts. 

View the Wall Street Journal story referenced above (subscription password required to access the story).

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