It is very difficult for me to write about gun violence in America. It must be difficult for my dad, Jiben Roy, to write about it as well. Usually, he does not hesitate to put his endearing spin on current topics and send in an article for Dispatch readers to enjoy. But gun violence — well, he punted that one to me! He wanted me to write this article during the first week of April, after President Biden spoke about firearms laws in response to the latest string of mass shootings. My dad was hopeful about change that week, and told me to not delay a timely opinion piece. I procrastinated on writing about this emotionally charged topic, knowing that gun violence in America will be a timely topic for months and years to come.
COVID was quite disruptive to America’s culture of gun violence. Not to worry though; as America returns to normal, so will our mass shootings. As President Biden said, “Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment.”
On April 15th, as eight people died in a mass shooting in Indianapolis, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would eliminate the need for licenses for guns. State representative Matt Schaefer (R) said people should not be forced to spend money and time getting approval to keep a gun with them, especially if they are fearful for their safety. What now? Texans have to spend time and money to cast a mere vote, but not to carry a weapon that could end people’s lives? Reading this made me feel sick to my stomach. Then my mind’s cynicism came to the rescue — well, given how poorly trained American police are at judicious use of firearms, what’s the point in having any requirements about firearms training? What do people like Matt Schaefer find appealing about a community where most people are armed? What’s the point in having America look like Taliban controlled Afghanistan or conflict-ridden DR Congo? Are we striving to be a war zone?
The paranoia of gun deregulation proponents is interesting. I once read a psychoanalytic theory about how paranoid beliefs/delusions could be an affected person’s unconscious need to feel self-important. So, in treatment, the psychiatrist could explore with the patient why the patient believes s/he is being targeted. Of course, this treatment only has a chance of working if the patient is open to discussion, in a therapeutic environment. Therapy is not a situation most gun proponents are interested in, I imagine (Texas is one of the worst states in the US for mental healthcare). If they were, I’d ask why they are fearful for their safety in suburban homes, malls and restaurants. Are they part of the mob? Former gang member? How would their collection of firearms help during a drive-by shooting, which happens in communities that are actually unsafe.
I actually like firearms. I buy into the Hollywood fantasy of being an action heroine. But I’m aware of the difference between fantasy and reality. Being somewhat proficient in use of firearms would be a cool skill to have in the gun range, and that’s it. Being a superhero should require much more training. I never imagined that I’d be allowed to carry around a weapon that could end my life or someone else’s life without proving to society that I know when to use or not use the weapon, and that I’m a good shot if I do use it. This is a particularly poignant part of the gun debate for me, given the misery I went through to obtain the license to help people, as a doctor.
I sacrificed most of my time and energy in high school, college, medical school, and residency, over 12 years of my youth, to obtain the credentials to advise people on mental health and prescribe appropriate medication. It also cost me over $200,000. And every year I spend more on maintaining that license and malpractice insurance. Regulatory authorities don’t believe that a doctor’s common sense or heartfelt desire to help people is enough to ensure good practice. Doctors have to prove themselves again and again. We do it, without much resistance, because we believe in earning the privilege to influence people’s lives deeply. It hurts me to know how hard it is for me to save a person’s life in America, and how easy it is for some others to end it.
Writtika Roy MD, a Columbus native and graduate of UMMC, lives and practices psychiatry in Frisco, Texas.