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Ducks Beware?

By Scott Hamilton, MD
May 26, 2022
Hamilton Blog Headshot Updated 12.21.21

I grew up in a small town in New Jersey where friends hunted with fathers, but I don’t remember seeing any pistols around. The county licensed only two people to carry handguns. One had testified against a dangerous criminal, so the permit judge let him have a pistol when that criminal was released from prison. The other was a private detective. He got a permit not because he was solving crimes while getting in car chases, like on TV; but merely because the detective’s clients, seeing P.I.s armed on TV, expected him to be packing as well.

Life was safer from gun violence in suburban New Jersey in the 1970s. It was a simpler time, and owning a gun wasn’t such a “thing”. Only ducks and deer worried about being shot. It’s different in today’s world in 2022. COVID-19, job losses, political and social strife, have all made people more stressed.

There are also a lot more gun owners. Most of my friends and family here, besides having shotguns and rifles for hunting, also own pistols. And guns are in their cars and on their bedside tables instead of being locked away. The abundance of firearms and irresponsible owners created a dangerous intersection of violence. Shooting deaths in Lafayette parish, and nationwide, are way up. Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center where I work is the only Level II Trauma Center in the region. As such, patients who are shot anywhere in Acadiana who need a higher level of care come to our facility. By my estimation, only about one-third of all shootings actually make the news.

The problem with pistols is their inherent design: easy to carry and shoot. Pair that with short tempers and it’s a problem, and children get caught in the crossfire. I’ve cared for more pediatric gunshot wounds in the past year than in my previous 29 years combined. According to the CDC, shootings surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of death in kids and teens in 2020.

Unfortunately for our winter gumbos, my son and I hunt wood ducks. They’re more skittish and fly faster than their fatter brethren, and are thus safer from firearm injury than, well, citizens of Acadiana. Many times, we slog out into the swamp before dawn to watch the sun come up, without firing a shot. At those times we were just heavily armed nature lovers.

As we discussed above, firearm injuries in adults and children are rampant in our region, and nationwide. Poverty, drug abuse and mental health – for starters - and maybe an abundance of pistols, have fueled this crisis. Far as I can tell, only about a third of local firearm injuries make the news, and since 2020 gunshot wounds have surpassed car crashes as the leading killer of kids and teens, according to the CDC.

People keep pistols in their homes fearing nighttime intrusions. Seems everyone alone at night is afraid, and guns make them feel safer. However, the opposite is true: guns in homes are far more dangerous to family members than intruders. More and more kids and teens are shot in suicides, domestic disputes, and accidents; it’s questionable how many are protected by those guns. Curious kids find and fiddle with them, and tragedy ensues.

The best safety strategy: don’t have a gun easily accessible in the house! When my kids were little, my shotgun was at my father-in-law’s. If you must have one at home, keep it unloaded and locked away. Loaded pistols on bedside tables are asking for trouble, and many leave them in unlocked cars! More than one pistol has been stolen out of cars in my neighborhood.

Regardless of how you feel about the National Rifle Association, they have good advice about kids and guns. Teach kids about your gun to take away the mystique, and then lock it up! If they come across someone else’s gun, tell them to run away from it! After all, pistols are deadlier to kids than snakes. Just ask your local pediatric ER doctor.