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Straight, No Chaser: The Drama of Gunshot Wounds and a Nation at War with Itself

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD August 13, 2020


Somewhere in the midst of reconciling the parts of me that are physician, public health professional and African-American male, I realized that I don’t have the luxury to simply review the medical aspects of gunshot wounds. As an African-American, I have lived my entire life learning and having it reinforced that I and others of my kind are a misunderstanding or inappropriate interaction away from becoming a statistic. As a physician I get to treat, and as a public health professional I get to report and fashion broad solutions to various challenges, but as an African-American, I get to live a certain reality that for me began when my father died from a gunshot wound when I was a small child.


The trauma inflicted by a gunshot wound is not theoretical. It is a medical lie that such a thing as a warning shot exists, if indeed a bullet enters your body. Penetrating injuries to virtually all areas of the body (brain, neck, chest, back, abdomen, groin, extremities) can be fatal. Gunshot wounds have several ways of injuring you, including the direct damage to tissue, indirect damage from the shock waves and direct damage from fragments (of the bullet or bone). When you shoot someone, you have factored in a possibility that the wound you inflict could be fatal. Police officers shooting individuals are aiming at areas correlating with defined statistic probabilities of death, none of which is zero. No one should ever be allowed to claim otherwise.

gun violence chicago

We live in a country that is without debate the most violent country on earth, both outside of and within all parts of our borders. From the individual’s rights to bear militia levels of arms to the police’s increasing position as military units, from the contradictions of allowing both “Open Carry” and “Stand Your Ground,” we are spiraling toward an inevitable conclusion.
You want to participate in a challenge? Stop being so deficient of attention about what’s happening before our eyes, and think and ask what the inevitable conclusion of all of this is going to be. Regardless of your political persuasion, there are issues to be addressed.


Consider the following facts from the Children’s Defense fund,

  • approximately 2900 children and teens died from guns in the US in both 2008 and 2009. (Does anyone think the numbers have declined since then?) That’s one child or teen every 3 hours. That’s eight children or teens every day. That’s 55 children or teens every week for two years. What is our country’s response to this? What are you specifically doing to contribute to a solution to this?
  • Young Blacks are being exterminated by gunshot wounds in this country. Black children and teens accounted for 45% of all child and teen deaths in those years, while only accounting for 15% of the total child population. Are you just going to read this statement passively without wondering about and contributing to a solution?
  • Black males 15-19 were eight times as likely as White males of the same age and two-and-a-half times as likely as their Hispanic peers to be killed in a gun homicide in 2009. In fact, gun homicide is the leading cause of death among Black teens ages 15-19 in 2008-2009.
  • The most recent analysis of data from industrialized nations shows that 87% of the children under age 15 killed by guns in these nations lived in the U.S. The homicide rate in the U.S. for teens and young adults ages 15-24 was 42.7 times higher than the combined rate for all other nations.
  • In spite of all this, in absolute numbers more White than Black children and teens have died from gun violence since data started being collected.

Using more recently available data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the number of firearm-induced deaths in 2013 as 11,068. This accounted for over 68% of all murders in the U.S. last year.


What is it going to take to get the American public and leaders to stand up to protect the lives and safety of children over the lobbies of gun owners and sellers? America can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can fashion reasonable safety measures and restrictions that will save lives while working within the framework of current interpretations of the Constitution by the Supreme Court. This will not occur without pressure from the populace.
Martin Luther King, Jr had two famous and related quotes that are relevant and applicable here.

  • “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
  • “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

If you are not willing to take specific actions to eradicate the challenges facing us, that makes your condolences somewhat hollow after tragedies have occurred. It is past time to get involved in whatever way you can or choose. The life you save may be your own.
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