WASHINGTON — Healthcare was front and center at various points during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing Wednesday on the problem of gun violence.
“I was called here today as a witness, but I showed up because I am a doctor,” said Roy Guerrero, MD, a pediatrician in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School on May 24 before he was shot and killed by law enforcement authorities. “Many years ago I swore an oath — an oath to do no harm. After witnessing firsthand the carnage in my hometown of Uvalde, to stay silent would have betrayed that oath. Inaction is harm. Passivity is harm. Delay is harm. So here I am. Not to plead, not to beg or convince you of anything, but to do my job and hope that by doing so, it inspires the members of this House to do theirs.”
Guerrero, who attended the school as a boy, went on to describe the horrific injuries he saw in two of the victims, “children whose bodies had been pulverized by bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had been ripped apart. The only clue at their identities was the blood-splattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them, clinging for life and finding none.” He spoke of how adults are often resistant to change, “even when change will make things better for ourselves … The thing I can’t figure out is whether our politicians are failing us out of stubbornness, passivity, or both.”
“Making sure our children are safe from guns, that’s the job of our politicians and leaders,” Guerrero concluded. “In this case, you are the doctors and our country is a patient. We are lying on the operating table riddled with bullets …We are bleeding out and you are not there. My oath as a doctor means that I signed up to save lives. I do my job … please, please do yours.”
Greg Jackson Jr., executive director of the Community Justice Action Fund, urged lawmakers to “swiftly recognize that this is a public health crisis that deserves a public health response … We urge Congress to invest in community-based solutions that we know can address those public health risk factors — that can reduce the risk factors of those impacted by gun violence, but also address the root causes.”
Amy Swearer, a legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, stressed mental health issues. “A key component of this is not just looking at physical security, but also having the adequate mental health resources,” including licensed mental health professionals in schools, she said.
Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) also addressed mental health. “Those children were killed by a mentally ill person who should not have had access to weapons, but he did,” Connolly said. “He wasn’t a criminal; he was mentally ill.” Connolly noted that Australia was successful in reducing gun violence after it passed a series of strict gun laws. “They don’t have the massacres that we do. It changed behavior because it changed access to weapons and ammunition.”
Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) saw it a different way. “Senseless mass shootings are coming from unstable disturbed loners with mental disease,” he said. “Refusing to address mental health services, especially for young people, is to do a disservice best and it’s a dereliction of duty at worst,” he said. “The focus, sadly, by the Democrats is to restrict guns or prohibit their legal possession entirely.”
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) agreed, saying that although most mass shooters are psychopaths, “The Second Amendment is not there to stop psychopaths — it’s not. That’s not its purpose. The purpose of the Second Amendment is to protect the rights of American citizens.”
Social factors also were on the table. “One of the factors that is a common denominator, across much of this is, simply, broken homes,” said Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Texas). He cited one study which found that “the most reliable indicator of crime in the community is the proportion of fatherless homes …. For a long time our government has subsidized and even promoted policies that continue to break down the home, and we have to do what we can to make sure we come back to this.”
Joyce Frieden oversees MedPage Today’s Washington coverage, including stories about Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, healthcare trade associations, and federal agencies. She has 35 years of experience covering health policy. Follow
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