Doctors take stand against gun violence, call for stronger firearm laws

A group of doctors in Canada is taking a stand against gun violence and calling for stronger laws governing firearms to prevent shooting deaths and injuries.

Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns want firearm bill passed quickly and handgun ban

Dr. Najma Ahmed, a co-chair of the group and trauma surgeon at St. Michael's Hospital, says gun violence should be seen as a public health issue. 'We are calling on policy makers to demonstrate courage and take decisive action to protect the safety of Canadians.' (Albert Leung/CBC)

A group of doctors in Canada is taking a stand against gun violence and calling for stronger laws governing firearms to prevent shooting deaths and injuries.

Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, which was formed in last summer in Toronto, has between 50 and 75 members, including doctors who have treated victims of gun violence.

The group is made up of family doctors, emergency room physicians, trauma surgeons, psychiatrists, medical residents and students, with members across the country.

"All of us have had first-hand experience with the devastation caused by guns," Dr. David Gomez, a trauma and acute care surgeon at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, said on Monday.

Dr. David Gomez, a trauma and acute care surgeon at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, says: 'All of us have had firsthand experience with the devastation caused by guns.' (St. Michael's Hospital)

Gomez said his most recent experiences with victims of gun violence occurred in Toronto this past summer and fall, when there were several deadly shootings.

"Not uncommonly would we see two or three or four patients present in the same weekend. Unfortunately, a lot of these patients die. And the ones that survive, they are left with devastating consequences that have not only significant impacts on the patient, but also on their whole family," he said.

"What we have identified is that it's time to reframe the debate about guns in Canada and we have to look at it from a public health lens."

Gomez said doctors are concerned not only about homicides caused by guns across the country, but also accidental deaths and injuries and suicides.

On Monday, the group launched a campaign to put pressure on the federal government. It is calling for "swift passage" of Bill C-71, firearms legislation currently in the Senate, and a ban on handguns and assault weapons. 

Toronto police vehicles are parked on Danforth Avenue, following a shooting in July 2018 that left two people dead and 12 injured. The gunman in the Danforth shooting also died. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Dr. Najma Ahmed, a co-chair of the group and trauma surgeon at St. Michael's Hospital, said in a news release on Monday that deaths and injuries by firearms are "preventable tragedies" but political will is needed.

"We are calling on policy makers to demonstrate courage and take decisive action to protect the safety of Canadians," she said. 

National Day of Action planned for April 3

On Feb. 18, the group has been asked to speak before the Senate's standing committee on national security and defence, which is studying Bill C-71, An Act to amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms. 

On April 3, the group is planning to hold a national day of action to back its call for stronger gun laws.

Dr. Lynn Wilson, a co-chair of the group and a family physician and vice dean at the University of Toronto's faculty of medicine, said the impact of gun violence goes far beyond gangs.

Toronto police officers stand on Ontario Street after a shooting there last May that injured a man. (Tony Smyth/CBC)

"Our professional experiences with victims of guns includes operating on children dying from accidental gunshots, holding the hands of domestic violence victims shot by their abusers, and counseling the families of people who have taken their own lives by gun," Wilson said.

In a position paper on its website, the group says governments should recognize that gun deaths and injuries have become a major public health concern in Canada.

"We know the pro-gun lobby is going to try and muddy the issue," said Dr. Alan Drummond, a rural emergency physician in Perth, Ont.

"But our expertise— and our professional responsibility — is in the protection of public health."

Drummond said doctors feel compelled to take action on the issue.

The group's position paper has been endorsed by:

  • College of Family Physicians of Canada.
  • Canadian Association of General Surgeons.
  • Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians.
  • Canadian Paediatric Society.
  • Ontario Medical Association.
  • Alberta Medical Association.
  • Trauma Association of Canada.