As soon as the NRA encouraged doctors to “stay in their lane” last November, physicians, many of whom treat gunshot victims, took to social media to say that gunshot carnage is squarely in their lane. Among those who spoke out was Dr. Peter Masiakos, a pediatric surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, who sees firsthand the carnage of gun violence. Now he and a colleague have set up the Mass General Center for Gun Violence Prevention. Dr. Peter Masiakos spoke with WGBH's All Things Considered Host Barbara Howard about the center. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Barbara Howard: We spoke about six months ago, and you are on the front lines. Are you seeing an increase or a decrease in gunshot victims in your hospital?
Dr. Peter Masiakos: There's been a little bit of an uptick since the beginning of the year. We've had 14 fatalities related to gun violence.
Howard: The gunshot deaths you're talking about, that come into your emergency room, are one or two at a time, as opposed to mass shootings — they don't get as much attention in the news. How do they stack up in terms of numbers?
Masiakos: Well, I think that you have to look at the gun violence problem as four buckets. You have the mass shootings that capture the attention of everybody, and that makes up about 2 percent of all of the gun deaths that we see. As far as the rest, 1 percent are unintentional injuries, such as a kid finding a loaded weapon in the drawer of a bedside table and using it accidentally. The others are made up of homicides, which make up about a third of the gun violence deaths. And then, finally, suicides, which make up two-thirds of the deaths every year.
Howard: So suicides is two-thirds, homicides roughly the other third, with a very small percentage being these mass shootings and accidental deaths by children finding guns?
Masiakos: That's right.
Howard: So, we're talking about deaths?
Howard: But for each death, you must be seeing people who survive who don't make the news.
Masiakos: That's right, and that's really the very important thing that we need to talk about. We see about two or three times as many non-fatal injuries.
Howard: Well, this has not really been studied very thoroughly. There is a thing called the Dickey Amendment. Many may have heard of this — it effectively prevents the Centers for Disease Control from conducting gun research, and that means getting funding for research on the kinds of problems you're seeing every day in your emergency room is next to impossible. Is that what you're hoping to address with this new center?
Masiakos: That's exactly what we're hoping to address. I'm lost on the fact that we can't study gun violence like we study HIV. I remember back when I was a medical student, HIV was sensationalized, and we were treating people as though they were pariahs. And we started talking about it, and the medical community came behind that and said we've got to study it, we've got to understand it, and look where we are now. We're treating it, and HIV funding has supported that. And I think that's the same thing we're looking to do with gun violence.
Howard: There's been a move among pediatricians to speak with parents in their offices during routine checkups, to provide locks for guns, like you would provide a bicycle helmet. But there's been push back on that?
Masiakos: The most sensational push back has come from Florida, where they've passed a law to prohibit doctors from talking about guns and gun access. Fortunately, the 11th Circuit Court repealed that law that was passed. Also, there are about seven or eight other states that are considering laws like that, which will gag doctors [in a similar way].
Howard: Massachusetts, I'm assuming, has no gag order?
Masiakos: That's correct.
Howard: Where does Massachusetts stand in terms of gun violence?
Masiakos: Comparatively, we’re either the first or second safest state in the country.
Howard: What are we doing right?
Masiakos: Well, I think it's a combination of things. We have strong laws. There is community-based policing to obtain a gun. And I think we have a very progressive legislature.
Howard: What kind of a toll does it take on physicians like yourself?
Masiakos: The thing that gets me is the mothers — the eyes — the eyes get me. You know, they look at you, and you're telling them that you just couldn't save their kid. It’s just the worst part of my job.