Guest Commentary

Andrew Park: Hospital, campus are no places for guns

Allowing guns in hospitals, where tension often already run high, is a bad idea, writes guest columnist Andrew Park.
Allowing guns in hospitals, where tension often already run high, is a bad idea, writes guest columnist Andrew Park. THE STAR

The Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act goes into effect in July, allowing adults to carry a concealed handgun on college campuses and in hospitals in Kansas, without a background check and with absolutely no training.

I’m an emergency physician. I’m comfortable with guns because I grew up around them in rural western Kansas. Some of my best memories are of the hunting trips taken with my dad and brother when we were young. However, many people I work with in the medical center do not share this level of comfort around guns. For most, the thought of sitting down with a patient who has a hidden gun or dealing with an angry patient or family member who may be carrying a gun is absolutely terrifying. I have a deep respect for their power, given my years of experience with guns while hunting and the injuries I’ve seen as an emergency physician in the Bronx and Kansas City.

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It seems unthinkable that in my daily workplace, with armed security and a state hospital police department, there could be other people carrying guns who have no training and who have undergone no background checks (something made legal in 2015 by Kansas law). Historical data and prior criminal events have helped shaped the need for this level of security in the medical center, including a physician and a visitor being shot in the emergency department in 1981.

Our police and security have months and often years of training in the safe handling of firearms and in dealing with people in these unpredictable situations. FBI data from active shooter incidents has shown that unarmed citizens were 20 times more likely to stop an active shooter situation than an individual with a gun.

In hospitals we rely on the security staff every day to help protect us in volatile situations with family members and patients who are aggressive and unpredictable, or mentally unstable. Workplace violence is common in health care. One study showed that in the period from 2000 to 2011, 235 people were shot by guns in hospitals, and 55 percent of the victims were innocent bystanders. Nurses are assaulted by patients more frequently than in any other profession. A study in 2011 showed that 54.5 percent of nurses had experienced workplace violence in the last seven days alone. Another study demonstrated the frequency of violent encounters over a nine-month period, an average of 5.5 such encounters for each physician, nurse and technician in the emergency department, and 827 events total. Adding a gun to these violent interactions increases the likelihood that someone will get killed.

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An academic medical center is a place where the most vulnerable people come to get their medical care. Guns in the hands of people who are experiencing sometimes life-changing, high-stress situations, and especially those with undiagnosed or inadequately treated depression or other psychiatric disorders, put not only those patients, family and friends at risk of hurting themselves, but they endanger everyone around them. This law places the burden directly on patients in hospitals and the students, faculty and staff who work in hospitals and on university campuses.

This is a public health issue, not a “pro-gun” or “anti-gun” issue. This year, guns killed as many people as cars, yet we consistently make it easier for people to buy guns and carry them in public with no training and almost no regulation, especially in Kansas. Kansas is one of eight states that would allow concealed carry of a gun on university campuses. In the face of opposition by a large majority of the faculty and staff at the University of Kansas Medical Center, overwhelming opposition by distinguished professors at Kansas State University and an expansive list of distinguished professors at the University of Kansas, why is this law going forward?

Andrew Park is an emergency physician at the University of Kansas Health System and has a master’s degree in public health from Boston University.

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