On my first day back to medical school, I had the unpleasant surprise of finding safety instructions posted on the doors of Ross Hall describing how to react in the event of an active shooter. The precautions came in response to the recent gun tragedies that have weighed on the hearts of all Americans, particularly the Dec. 14 shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. I commend and appreciate the University’s response, but the student body should still be concerned with the nation’s conversation on gun control. This debate should not end with candlelight vigils.
During several lectures in Ross Hall, I have pondered my response to the “active shooter” scenario. University Police Department instructions suggest evacuating, hiding or in severe circumstances, confronting the assailant. This safety bulletin is logical but ultimately does not address the core issue.
Our nation’s gun policies make each of us open targets for the next attack, which will inevitably occur without some concrete response. We must not only champion sensible gun control, but also remind the University community that our security is at stake. The massacres at Virginia Tech University and Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. could have happened here. Students should demand a response.
I applaud University President Steven Knapp for joining other university leaders in signing an open letter to President Barack Obama, pushing for stricter gun control. The letter highlights the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. and pledges GW will be engaged in working toward a solution.
Concrete measures, including reinstating an assault weapons ban and ensuring background checks for every firearm purchase, would significantly advance our security. We should demand legislation that assures university campuses and classrooms will remain gun-free zones. As a student body, particularly one in D.C., we should use every resource and petition to advance the cause of sensible gun control in this country.
Mental health issues are also critical to this debate. I was horrified to discover that several states have recently attempted to restrict a physician’s ability to question patients about their gun ownership.
Speaking as a medical student, I appreciate the importance of openness and confidentiality in the doctor-patient relationship. Patients deserve unfiltered access to information, and physicians need the opportunity to fully evaluate their patients. Medical professionals need freedom to counsel their patients on the risks of owning firearms.
As a student body, we must demand that our nation’s response to the gun problem includes a commitment to improving mental health care and empowering physicians.
My message to the University community is simple: Keep the conversation alive. Continue signing petitions, calling Congress and voicing ideas. We cannot allow another tragedy to pass without meaningful reflection and action on the nation’s gun laws.
Rishi Singhal is a medical student in GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences.