Why doctors are calling gun violence in the U.S. an epidemic

Gun violence ripped through multiple communities last weekend, with dozens killed or injured in shootings nationwide. A growing number of health care providers say gun violence is a public health issue. Dr. Joseph Sakran, a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore who survived a life-threatening gunshot wound as a teenager, joins John Yang to discuss.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    As we reported earlier, it was another devastating weekend of mass shootings, as lawmakers in Congress and states consider possible new gun safety regulations.

    John Yang has more.

  • John Yang:

    Amna, the trail of gun carnage since Friday night stretches across at least 10 states, according to the Gun Violence Archive, Michigan, Tennessee, Arizona, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Nebraska, and Virginia.

    The toll, at least 17 people dead and more than 50 injured. In Philadelphia, a brawl on a crowded street Saturday night turned into a gunfight, leaving three people dead and 12 more hurt.

    Larry Krasner is the Philadelphia district attorney.

  • Larry Krasner, Philadelphia District Attorney:

    I went to the scene myself the morning after the shooting to see what was there. And it was chilling, no less chilling that had happened in more than 10 places around the country.

  • John Yang:

    Many health care providers say gun violence as a public health issue.

    After the NRA said physicians should stay in their lane, dozens responded with stories about treating gunshot victims with the hashtag #ThisIsOurLane.

    One of them is Dr. Joseph Sakran, a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and himself a survivor of a life-threatening gunshot wound.

    Dr. Sakran, thanks so much for being with us.

    So much attention comes to gun violence after horrific events, like Buffalo and Uvalde. But talk to us about the routine results of gun violence that you see in your emergency room.

  • Dr. Joseph Sakran, The Johns Hopkins Hospital:


    Well, thanks so much, John, for having me. And I think you're absolutely correct is, we often in America talk about gun violence as it relates to these mass shootings, and that gets significant media and public attention.

    But the reality is, is that the mass shootings comprise less than 2 percent of the overall public health problem. And every day, in cities like Baltimore, where I work, we have young brown men, we have high school students, we have pregnant moms that are being slaughtered on our streets.

    And we, frankly, have both the opportunity and the responsibility to make sure those stories are told, because that's what we are seeing all across this country.

  • John Yang:

    You're a physician. You treat gunshot victims. You yourself were shot when you were 17 years old at a high school football game.

    What do you see as a physician? What do you see in your life, daily life as a survivor, about the surviving victims of gunshot wounds, their daily lives, their experiences that gets lost, do you think, in the coverage?

  • Dr. Joseph Sakran:

    Yes, I think I think that's so important. As you allude, I come to this conversation, both as a survivor, as well as now a trauma surgeon.

    And, of course, we often talk about the physical injuries. But there's also the mental and the emotional trauma that takes place. You can imagine what a child must think when they're sitting in a classroom, and they watch their friends literally being killed in front of them.

    It's absolutely horrific. And we have the opportunity to change that.

  • John Yang:

    Is there an extent to which there's re-traumatization every time an event like this happens and it fills the airwaves, it fills the headlines?

  • Dr. Joseph Sakran:

    Yes, absolutely.

    I think, every time this happens, it not only traumatized as a community, but it's re-traumatizing the entire country. I mean, you look at what children in schools all across America are going through, 75 percent of them are worried that mass shooting is going to happen in their own school, vs. trying to focus on education.

    So I think there is some truth to this re-traumatization. And I will tell you something else. For too long, we have sanitized this conversation around gun violence in America and talked about it as shootings. I think it's time that we pull back those curtains and allow the American people to understand the horrific and senseless tragedies that are witnessed by very few.

  • John Yang:

    And that was, as I understand one of the goals of your #ThisIsOurLane, the hashtag #ThisIsOurLane effort. Can you talk a little bit about what your goals and intentions are in that?

  • Dr. Joseph Sakran:

    Listen, when health care professionals came out after the NRA essentially told us that we don't belong in — coming up with a solution around this complex public health problem, we were incensed, because here we are the ones at the center of the problem, taking care of the patients, but also having to talk to these families and loved ones.

    And so for anyone that understands the complexity of this, they will realize that no one person and no one organization is going to be able to solve it on its own.

  • John Yang:

    You began this effort four years ago. And not — I have to say, not much has changed since then, and that these incidents keep happening.

    Is that frustrating to you? Does it anger? Do you become numb to it after a while? How do you react to that?

  • Dr. Joseph Sakran:

    Well, look, I have been working around gun violence prevention for way longer than four years.

    And when you look at what's happened, let's say, since Sandy Hook, the past decade, right, of course, it's frustrating that we have not seen change at the federal level.

    But, John, let's not be mistaken, the country is not the same as it was 10 years ago. Most governing in America happens at the local and state level. And, in fact, if you look hundreds of pieces of commonsense gun legislation have been passed in states and cities across this country.

    The problem is, is that we live in a nation that has porous borders. So it's time that we shore up those borders. Is it happening quick enough? Absolutely not, because, every day, we have children, young people, and others that are being killed because of gun-related injuries. So we must do better.

  • John Yang:

    Dr. Joseph Sakran from Johns Hopkins Hospital, thank you very much.

  • Dr. Joseph Sakran:

    Thanks so much, John, for having me.

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