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It was a Sunday afternoon in November when Stephanie Bonne, a trauma surgeon in the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School department of surgery, opened her Twitter to a post telling her and everyone she works with that gun violence is not their problem.
The National Rifle Association (NRA), in reference to findings of an in-house study, tweeted that half of the articles published in the medical journal “Annals Of Internal Medicine” feature opinionated voices from doctors supporting gun control.
”Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane … the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves,” the tweet read.
“My lane: a resident, watching my mentor desperately try to save a 6 year old accidentally shot by his brother. When he knew it over, he stopped, held the boys hand and wept at the OR table as he died,” she wrote in the tweet.
Less than 24 hours later, thousands of people liked and retweeted her post. Those within the medical community shared the hashtag with photos and videos of their experiences working with gun violence: including blood trails smeared on hospital floors, fragmented bullet remains and bloodied scrubs.
Not long after her initial post, Bonne tweeted a picture of the teal blue chair, propped in the corner of what appears to be a waiting room, that she uses to tell parents their children are dead.
“Why? Well, I have a chair for all the things I ROUTINELY do: my dinner chair, my reading chair, the chair where I rock my kids to sleep. And the chair where I tell parents their kids are dead,” she wrote.
Acting as both caretakers and expert voices, it is difficult for doctors to separate how they feel about their patients with their objective knowledge of gun violence, Bonne said.
“I can say in a very cold way that an AR-15 is definitely more lethal than a handgun, but for me as a person it’s very difficult to unmarry that from, 'I feel awful about the fact that I have to tell 21 mothers that their kids are dead as a result of this policy,'” she said.
Doctors have no stake in any side in any type of weapons competition, she said, and only want to see what is best for their patients. The NRA’s post effectively told them that because they are not stakeholders, they should remove themselves from the conversation.
Her tweet currently has more than 30,000 retweets and 90,000 likes: a reaction she said she was not expecting, but came at a time during which she and her colleagues were working to conceptualize what a physician's movement to prevent gun violence might look like.
Two months prior, Bonne helped collect nearly 100,000 signatures on a letter sent to the NRA in hopes of convincing them to collaborate with doctors on the issue. It is one of many steps the medical community has taken to advocate for gun violence prevention, as it has for other booming health issues.
Doctors played an integral role in helping spread information to minimize the effects of AIDS, colon cancer and vehicular accidents when they peaked as public health crises. In each of these cases, Bonne said it was a combination of solutions that spanned from policy to individual culture changes which addressed the problem.
“For guns it’s going to be the same thing, we need to talk about the culture of storage and child access, prevention so kids can’t get their hands on guns and then we need to talk about legislative solutions that will take care of things like criminal trafficking and weapon movement across borders,” she said.
Bonne co-manages the Center for Gun Violence Research at Rutgers, recently awarded $2 million by the State of New Jersey to research the causes, consequences and solutions to firearm-related violence, according to Rutgers Today. She said it is a good first step toward creating solutions that are implementable and practicable in the absence of national research led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Not long ago, she authored a different viral tweet — #LooksLikeASurgeon — aimed at calling attention to the fact that women and minorities can become surgeons. Once in a while she posts with the hashtag, but as was the case then, she suspects that the popularity of her tweet today will not change the trajectory of her career.
She is interested to see what comes of the movement in the future, if it coalesces into something greater, and considers the number of people it has reached so far a win.
“Where I would like to see the conversation go is not that doctors are adding their voice to one side or the other, but that we’re actually reframing it to say, ‘As the stewards of health and safety in the community, doctors should be the people that you come to for information about health and safety when it comes to your firearms.'”