Scrubs Addressing the Firearm Epidemic: Speaking Up for Public Health

Rose Martin
uvmmedicine blogger Rose Martin ’22

Rose Martin ’22 and fellow members of the Scrubs Addressing the Firearm Epidemic (SAFE) Student Interest Group attended a hearing at the Vermont State House this spring to support S.169, a bill that would have instituted a 24 hour waiting period for gun purchases. Although Governor Scott vetoed S.169 on June 10, 2019, the movement to curb gun violence in Vermont is still very much alive. SAFE SIG maintains its commitment to following research into the impact of firearms on health. In the upcoming months, the SIG will continue to update members on opportunities for gun safety advocacy and make recommendations for physician involvement in the reduction of firearm violence. Says Martin: “We remain hopeful that, with continued effort from our communities, we will see a changing tide in the way of gun violence.”

Andrew Black was a talented athlete and young brewer raised in Essex, Vermont. Late last year, at the age of 23, Andrew died by firearm suicide. Andrew’s death came without warning: he purchased a gun just a few hours before his death. Now, his parents share his story to advocate for a waiting period for firearm purchases in an effort to lower the likelihood of impulsive acts of firearm violence. They have been urging Vermont state legislature to enact a 24-hour waiting period on Vermont gun purchases.

Unfortunately, Vermont has a suicide rate that consistently falls in the top quarter of all U.S. states. Firearms are the most common means of suicide in Vermont, and by far the most lethal (over 90 percent of attempted suicides by firearms result in death). The statistics are startling, and as future doctors, many of us feel strongly about our responsibility to advocate for policies that will aid in the prevention of harm in our community. Vermont bill S.169 would have ensured that those who wish to buy a gun may only receive the gun 24 hours after completion of their background check. There are well-documented links between impulsivity, firearm access and suicide in the medical literature, and the SAFE Student Interest Group at the UVM Larner College of Medicine —or Scrubs Addressing the Firearm Epidemic—felt it was important to share our agreement that this would be a protective measure against gun violence in the state. As a result, we attended the public hearing on S.169 to convey our support of the proposal.

Four members of our student interest group were present at the hearing, none of which had witnessed a public hearing before. We walked in through a side door and then past a sea of orange shirts that expressed opposition of the proposed bill. We looked at one another, suddenly and acutely aware that our support would be part of the minority that night. The hearing opened with striking testimony from both of Andrew’s parents, who elegantly and bravely offered their story in support of S.169. Their words stood both as a testament to how much they loved Andrew and a sign of their commitment to protecting other families from experiencing the type of suffering they have endured.

We watched as Vermonters from all over the state spoke for and against the bill. We were struck by the testimonies we heard on each side. No matter the belief, it was clear that many of the people in the room had been directly impacted by gun violence in one way or another. We heard a lot about fear: fear that the passing of the legislation would infringe on the right to bear arms, fear that Vermonters would be less able to protect themselves, fear that more young people would die if we fail to act.

When the two-hour hearing came to an end, we left the State House inspired by the people who showed up to take action. The hearing served as an introduction to an avenue for physician advocacy that we had yet to encounter directly. Although the experience was, admittedly, intimidating for us at first, we left reminded of the importance of offering support and presence. As we drove home that night, we found ourselves eager to submit our own written testimonies in encouragement of the bill. Above all, the experience reaffirmed our belief in the importance of standing up for the health and well-being of the people around us, and helped us better understand the tools we have as future physicians to advocate against harm in the populations we serve.

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