Dr. Bert Mandelbaum on physicians' role in gun control

Written by Shayna Korol | June 12, 2018 | Print  |

Bert Mandelbaum, MD, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and the co-chair of medical affairs for the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles. He believes that physicians must use their platform to advocate for gun control.

Dr. Mandelbaum completed his orthopedic surgery residency training at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in inner-city Baltimore. Guns were a major part of the city's culture, and patients came into the hospital with gunshot wounds every day. "There were times the outside world came into the inside," Dr. Mandelbaum said. "Once a man came in and started shooting — a triage nurse and I hid under a desk. I remember it like it was yesterday, the sound of the bullets pinging on the metal."

"We're a civilized country," he said, but according to a study in The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care, the U.S. has approximately 20 times the rate of gun deaths compared to high-income countries with guns and strong gun control. "Some consider it more important to protect the right to have guns than to worry about the kids endangered by those guns. After the Parkland shooting and many other school shootings, kids worry about becoming victims of gun violence while sitting in classrooms."

Dr. Mandelbaum believes gun violence stems from the broader culture and the policies that are — or aren't — in place. "For me, this has nothing to do with hunting deer or owning a rifle." Guns have the potential to create tremendous damage, "and we don't pay them enough respect. We have to approach this pragmatically. I'm not out to take away peoples' hunting guns, their private collection — my focus is on keeping assault weapons out of the hands of the general population."

He believes that gun violence is due to mental health issues, "the logistics of who gets a gun in their hand," and the role of the NRA and gun manufacturers. However, Dr. Mandelbaum advises physicians not to approach gun control from a political standpoint, but rather a population health standpoint. "We need to focus our efforts on how to make gun ownership safe. It's such a taboo to talk about training and gun safety, and we have to call it as it is," he said. "We took the Hippocratic Oath to look out for the best interests of our patients — and speaking out is the best thing we can do to look out for our patients."

Dr. Mandelbaum advises physicians to urge their colleagues to speak out on this issue without fear of criticism. The medical field needs a bigger voice, Dr. Mandelbaum claims, but it does not have strong leadership. "Physicians should be leaders, and we do have a voice. We can work to create better policies, procedures and laws. When you really think about it, we are speaking out for future generations. It's really for the children."

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