Drs. Richard Feldman and David Blank: Congress must move beyond talking points

Keywords Opinion / Viewpoint
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In 2019, an Indianapolis physician colleague, Dr. David Blank, and I co-authored a column on gun control. David is a conservative Republican and I a fairly liberal Democrat. We are both gun owners and believe in the right to defend our homes and that the American public should not be disarmed. Gun ownership is also a necessary defense—if it should ever occur in America—to a tyrannical and demagogic government.

However, we believe, as does the vast majority of Americans, that reasonable gun control is warranted. Despite our political differences, we offered our agreed-upon gun control and safety measures.

Despite a litany of outrageous gun-violence tragedies, many involving children, no progress in gun control has been made since our previous column. Now Uvalde and Buffalo and numerous other mass shootings are added to the list. As of early June, there have been 247 mass shootings in 2022. There have been nearly 19,000 gun-related deaths (10,400 suicides and 8,400 homicides, sadly including 716 children and teenagers). Time to co-author another column.

In 2019, we supported enactment of a federal “red flag law” that allows authorities to temporarily confiscate firearms from individuals credibly deemed a threat to themselves or others. Indiana already has such a law that has been used very successfully (when utilized with proper follow through) and without overreach. We supported banning high-capacity magazines, greater funding for mental health interventions, expanding background checks for all commercial gun sales and funding for gun-safety research.

We remain supportive of these proposals. And although on opposite sides of the political spectrum, we continue finding common ground on this very political and divisive issue.

We favor additional measures. We support processes that interrupt the flow of guns to criminals without interfering with the rights of law-abiding citizens. According to Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms agents, only 10% of guns used in crimes are stolen. Notably, resources and procedures need to be identified and available to stop traffickers. The Biden administration established a study task force, but it appears inactive.

Federal data indicate that juveniles committing crimes are more apt to carry guns compared to adults and their weapon of choice is semi-automatic handguns. Consequently, we agree on raising the age to 21 for the purchase of semi-automatic firearms. We support the banning of “ghost guns” without traceable serial numbers. And we favor waiting periods after gun purchases if data are identified supporting effectiveness. Perhaps most importantly, we need to understand why young men of all races find violence to be a fixture in their lives.

These are tough issues without easy answers. We should put partisanship aside and tackle gun violence through federally funded research coordinated by a broadly represented public-private task force. The political, social, economic, cultural, criminal and mental health determinants must be addressed in the equation.

We hear once again, “Something has to be done.” Our goal should not be merely acting but enacting meaningful evidenced-based legislative measures that prevent deaths and keep firearms out of the hands of those who are a danger to others—criminals and the mentally deranged.

Legislative proposals should be realistic with a chance of passage. Congress must finally move beyond partisan talking points and deflection and come to agreement on what is possible, just as we have.

As we stated three years ago, “Individual rights have never been absolute. We believe that there can be a balance between the common good and preserving individual rights. Bipartisan solutions are possible.”•

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Blank is an emergency medicine physician and Feldman is a family physician and former Indiana State Health commissioner.

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