Medical professionals say gun violence is a ‘public health problem’


Following another mass shooting over the holiday weekend, Maine medical professionals reiterated their call to treat gun violence as a “major public health concern.”

In an open letter signed on behalf of the Maine Psychological Association, President Jamie Pratt wrote that “action is needed more than ever to protect our children and our communities.”

The MePA is a professional organization representing more than 600 psychologists and psychological examiners in Maine, according to its website.

“The Maine Psychological Association, an organization whose mission is to advance psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means to promote human well-being, urges a holistic approach to science-informed public health to prevent gun violence,” said Pratt, a practicing psychologist and chair of the Department of Educational and School Psychology at the University of Southern Maine.

The letter was originally published in the Bangor Daily News just days before a mass shooting at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Illinois left seven people dead. MePA executive director Amy Safford shared the letter with members of the media on Wednesday.

Gun violence is an “epidemic,” Dr. Jeff Barkin, president of the Maine Medical Association, said in an interview Wednesday, with ramifications reverberating throughout an entire community and beyond those directly affected.

In his practice as a psychiatrist, Barkin said he hears all the time how current events affect his patients. Throughout COVID, for example, people were afraid of getting COVID, he said. When the war in Ukraine broke out, “people were afraid of erasure”.

“And now I see a shift towards basic safety, civility, fear for self and family in public places,” he said.

He said several patients told him ahead of the holiday weekend that they were planning “not to attend a big event” because of those concerns.

“So, yeah, it changes people’s perception of security and therefore how they’re going to act,” he said.

Barkin said he’s seen how gun violence also leaves its mark on healthcare workers who treat mass shooting victims through conversations with emergency department doctors and trauma surgeons from other places. States.

“What each of them is saying is that the damage done by these high-powered weapons is beyond anything most people can comprehend. That they destroy tissue, they break bone, they cause organ damage that looks like a bomb, not a hole,” he said.

“And if people understood that, rather than engaging in politics here, (there) might be more of a desire not to have so many of these dangerous weapons around,” he said.

From his position as a psychiatrist and president of a medical society, Barkin said he would like to see limits on military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, a background check requirement and a 25-year age limit. or more to buy a gun.

Car insurance rates, for example, are higher for people under 25, especially men, because statistically they are more likely to have accidents, Barkin said.

The frontal lobe, which controls executive functioning, judgment, impulse control and more, isn’t fully developed until age 25. The late teens and early 20s are also when people with psychiatric disorders most often begin to show symptoms, Barkin said.

“So by making firearms that have high capacity magazines and can fire very quickly, a lot of bullets (available) for that specific demographic seems pretty dangerous,” he said.

That said, however, in Maine, like the rest of the country, the vast majority of gun deaths are suicides, a trend that worries Barkin and gun safety advocates.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s report to the Legislature earlier this year, 85% of gun deaths in Maine in 2020 were adjudicated suicides and nearly three in five suicide deaths were by weapon. fire.

Per capita, self-inflicted gunshot deaths in Maine are far higher than the national average.

Gun violence has long been treated as “primarily a police or criminal justice issue,” Geoff Bickford, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, said Wednesday, but these statistics prove why “it’s a public health issue.” .

Not only is Maine a “gun-flooded” state with “almost unlimited access” to firearms, but the state’s demographics — older and with a large veteran population — are “the essence of the state’s high suicide rate.

According to the Maine CDC report, most of those who died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds were men 45 and older.

In addition to regulations like those suggested by Barkin that create a legal framework that would allow law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from a person who might pose a danger to themselves or others, commonly referred to as “laws red flag,” Bickford said Maine “absolutely” needs better access to mental health care.

“The public health crisis is, in our case particularly with suicide, it’s kind of a combination of the deaths and injuries that result from guns in a state awash with guns that has almost no restriction, combined with a woefully inadequate and underfunded mental health system,” he said.

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