The Institute for Spirituality and Health
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Spirited Words

See below for a collection of reflections, writings, essays, poems, and other contributions that the ISH community has submitted over the years. We hope you enjoy.

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Treating Violence Like A Virus

By John Graham

August 12th, 2012

The Associated Press published an article entitled, “Treating gun violence like a deadly virus” (Houston Chronicle, Sunday, Aug 12, 2012, (p. A30-31).  Certainly, the rash of mass shootings feels like a virus infection spreading out of control.  One mass shooting seems to provoke another.  This has caused some healthcare professionals to suggest the answer may be to approach the problem as we did in the past for automobile accidents caused by guardrails on our highways.  Recognizing the problem, guardrails were redesigned so they were curved and this change has prevented many needless deaths.  Enter Dr. Garen Wintemute, an Emergency Medicine professor who directs the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.  Wintemute believes we need a “science-based, programatic approach based on the reality that we live in a society saturated with guns and need better ways of preventing harm from them.” 

The massacre at a Sikh Temple was the tipping point

for Dr. Stephen Hargarten, depicted in the picture on the left.  He was at the Emergency Room in Milwaukee where the victums were brought and seven pronounced dead, including the gunman.  Three more were admitted to Froedtert hospital in Milwaukee with serious injuries.  Hargarten is the chief of the emergency room at Froedtert hospital and also director of the Injury Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin.  Seeing this like an outbreak of disease he says the problem has become a “public health issue.”  And asks, “Do we wait for the next outbreak or is there something we can do to prevent it?”  

We are not talking about a minor health problem.  We are talking about 338,000 deaths annually.  Fortunately, mass shootings don’t seem to be on the rise.  They just appear to be so because of the publicity they receive.  Yet, overall deaths from shooting is far greater than deaths by automobiles which peaked in 1972 at 54,000 per year in the U.S. and today is less than 38,000 deaths annually.  So, we are talking about a problem that is almost ten times as likely to cause death than the highway.  Yet, addressing the problem has been a political hot potatoe.

The fact is, one-third of households have one or more guns (300 million in the U.S.) and because the “right to bear arms” is a cherished guarantee in our U.S. Constitution, this isn’t going to change.  And, when we look at our neighbor, Mexico, which has much more stringent gun control, we realize when the average citizen cannot protect him or herself by owning a gun, the darker element of society can rise with a violence of their own making.  In Mexico mass murder, even beheading of citizens, is used by gangs to terrorize people into submission.  Citizens are subjected to extortion, gangs demanding money from homeowners to be allowed to remain in their own homes.  They are threatened by death if they don’t pay the extortion money.   I don’t think the people of America want to take away our right to bear arms.  

But, should we become like the Wild West was in the past?  Should citizens arm themselves when they go to the grocery store or to attend a religious service?  It has been suggested that if people were carrying concealed weapons, James Holmes, the mass gunman at the Colorado movie theatre would not be able to kill so many indiscrimately.  Those who had guns in the audience would have taken him out.   I assume he knew this and that is why Holmes was wearing a bullet-proof chest and head shields.  Holmes was armed with an automatic weapon and anyone who tried to stop him with a pistol would likely have been killed in rapid order.  It is doubtful they could have stopped someone with such a planned massacre so carefully.  

A contagious disease can spread rapidly; and gun violence can spread rapidly, as well.  According to Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy anhd Research, reports many people are now bringing their guns when they go to watch “Batman” movies.  They are doing so for self-protection.   The question is, are you safer wearing a gun?   Gunowners would say yes.  Statistically, we and our loved ones are much more likely to be killed by our own gun than we are to be killed by a gunman.  

Will healthcare professionals find an answer to the gun problem in our nation?  That remains to be seen.  To me, this seems to be a heart and soul problem for those who carry weapons.  Until that is addressed we can be thankful for the police protection we have in this nation.   Without a strong police force we would be subject to the mass murder and extortion we see in our neighbor to the south.

Sara Moore