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Gun Violence — Costly in Many Ways

Rotary Learns how guns play deadly role in domestic violence

Every day, more than 80 Americans die from gun violence. Domestic violence accounts for the deaths of 1,500 women every year. Murder and assaults against people ages 0-24 cost a total of $125 billion per year for medical care, mental health treatment, pain, suffering and an overall reduction in the quality of life.

Those were just a few of the facts brought home to the Mount Vernon Rotary by Donald W. Parsons, M.D. A local physician, he is member of the California-based "Physicians for a Violence-Free Society [PVS]."

"We have built a physicians’ network to work on this issue of violence," Parsons told his audience last Wednesday night. "Because they are so often witness to firsthand accounts of violence, physicians are exceptionally equipped to become effective violence prevention activists."

Organized in 1993 in San Francisco by two emergency room physicians, Patricia Salber and Ellen Taliaferro, it has grown to a nationwide membership of more than 1,000, according to Parsons. "Our two top priorities are firearms and domestic violence," he stressed.

"As many as one-third of the women in this country have experienced abuse, either physical or psychological. And it's not limited to women. Many men also are victims," Parsons emphasized.

PVS works at all levels to accomplish its goals, according to Parsons. "We will be reintroducing three bills to Congress dealing with violence in our society that were not dealt with in the last session," he announced. One of those was originally sponsored by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.

A RESIDENT OF Glen Drive in the Mount Vernon area, Parsons is currently vice president and medical director for E-Health Solutions Group. It is a Web-based, interactive, self-assessment and training program for health-care professionals in such areas as patient safety and risk management.

With a medical specialty in surgery, Parsons has served with the U.S. Public Health Service as a Peace Corps physician in Somalia, where he witnessed the ravages of war and poverty firsthand. "Our options are not limited to just war or no war," he told the Rotarians.

"Ghandi, King and others brought about great changes in a nonviolent way. However, they were also both assassinated," he noted. He stated that he hoped his appearance before the club would usher in a period of "Goodbye, violence - hello, Rotary."

Parsons cited a bill in the Virginia General Assembly intended to close the loophole to buy a firearm at a gun show without the same constraints as are applied at a gun store. "A large number of guns are sold at these shows. These guns get into the communities that attack the rest of us," he exclaimed.

HE CITED THE sniper attacks of this past fall as "a prime example of how violence can paralyze society." The founders of PVS "began to realize that violence was not just the injuries they were seeing in their everyday practice, it was a social illness," Parsons pointed out. "It is a deep-seated emotional problem."

According to PVS statistics:

* Approximately 31 percent of American women have been physically or sexually abused at some point in their lives;

* About half of all female victims of intimate violence report an injury of some type. Only about 20 percent seek medical assistance;

* Fewer than 10 percent of primary care physicians routinely screen patients for domestic violence during regular office visits;

* U.S. medical schools require an average of only two hours of training in adult domestic violence;

* The rate of firearms deaths among Americans under age 15 is almost 12 times than in 25 other industrialized countries combined;

* American youth are 16 times more likely to be murdered with a gun, 11 times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and nine times more likely to die from a firearms accident than are children in 25 other industrialized countries combined.

THE LIST GOES ON. But, PVS' message is geared to seven basic areas of societal violence: domestic, dating, impact on children, youth, child abuse, elder abuse and firearms.

PVS supports physician advocates in many ways, including connecting physicians with physician advocates and community-based organizations, providing data for physician advocates to aid them in their presentations to other groups, supplying comprehensive training materials to health professionals, and providing an infrastructure that can be used to alert physicians when a rapid response to violence is necessary.

Central to PVS' entire message is the social impact of family violence on society as a whole. "The abundance of firearms has an enormous impact on family violence in this country," PVS contends.

Nearly 3,000 domestic abusers bought firearms between 1998 and 2001, despite laws designed to prevent such purchases.

Questions and Answers

Following his presentation, Parsons responded to a series of questions.

Q. Can a non-doctor become a member?

A. Yes, everyone is welcome.

Q. Is PVS involved with trying to understand the causes of violence?

A. Yes. Its activities are geared to personal, domestic and overall social violence.

Q. Is there any legislation on the books to require people to report suspected cases of violence?

A. Only in the area of child abuse. The problem is that the law identifies the perpetrator but does not require incarceration. This can result in further violence.

Q. What about anti-stalking laws? Does PVS get involved?

A. Only in a broad sense, because stalking is psychological violence, not physical.