Oregon: Easier to Get an Assault Weapon Than a Doctor

I pick up a Glock semiautomatic, the model used in the Virginia Tech massacre. I need to hold it, to feel it, to rub my finger across the trigger.

I don’t fear death. Raised in a morgue, I worked with my dad, the city medical examiner. As a kid, I watched autopsies and talked to dead people and made up heroic stories about their lives.

Now I’m moved by slaughtered innocence. But I can’t find peace–until today. Obsessed, I have to hold the Bushmaster AR-15, the model that killed those school kids. I need to feel the cold metal on my heart. I hug the gun, but still can’t feel all the pain. So I beg to hold the biggest, deadliest gun on display. When I look up, a crowd is smiling at me. I smile back. A doctor with an assault weapon makes people laugh.

Some things never make sense.

At today’s gun show, I’m offered assault weapons. No paperwork. I don’t even have to give my name.

Some guns are pink for girls. Some are really tiny. They all shoot–and kill. One seller mumbles, “Everybody wants something that will fit in their pocket and destroy the world.”

Providing health care in a country of gun lovers has its challenges.

In Oregon, rifles and shotguns are legal to own at 18. Handguns are legal at 21. I was 28, with 24 years of education, before I was legal to provide health care.

In Oregon, I don’t need a license to use my gun, but I do need a license to use my stethoscope.

To apply for my license, I had to submit a notarized application to the Oregon Medical Board with my birth certificate, medical diploma, photograph, fingerprints, national board exam transcript, and specialty board certificate, plus proof of internship, residency, and medical education with dean’s letter. I had to verify past employment, staff privileges, state licenses, and comply with a Federation Disciplinary Inquiry.

In Oregon, I don’t need to know how to read or write to buy a gun from a licensed dealer. My one-page background check can be legally filled out by just about anyone.

In Oregon, I don’t need a permit to use my gun, but I need permission to use my stethoscope–and that requires knowing how to read and write and complete pages and pages of documents. I had to account for all personal time since medical school, including nonmedical activities and vacations. I had to disclose all mental health treatment with names, dosages, and dates of my medications, plus names and addresses of my psychiatrists. Today, I don’t have to disclose any of that to get my gun.

In Oregon, I don’t need to register my gun. To provide health care I had to register and pay more than 1,000 dollars in fees to the Oregon Medical Board and Drug Enforcement Administration. Applications take 3 months or longer to process.

But there’s no waiting period for my gun. My instant background check takes less than 30 minutes and costs just 10 bucks.

In Oregon, it’s easy to get a gun. In Oregon, it’s easier to get an assault weapon than a doctor. In Oregon, our suicide rate is higher than national average, and physicians have the highest suicide rate of any profession. I’ve lost far too many colleagues. All men. Firearms are the method of choice. Some docs buy guns and kill themselves the same day. Receipt still in the bag.

Background check is done. Now one last decision: Bushmaster or Glock.

8 Responses to Oregon: Easier to Get an Assault Weapon Than a Doctor

  1. kerry augustyniak says:

    I’m one that would be happy if sacrifices for the greater good were much more the norm. My husband and I quit drinking, our drug of choice, in order to raise our children in the most stable environment we could possibly provide. I wanted them to have the chance to mature before they began experimenting with mood altering and sense distorting agents, unlike we did. Sacrifice (for lack of a better word) for the common good is not a respected or viable option in our current culture as far as I can tell, but I can tell you that the result of our sacrifice resulted in immeasurable grace, not just for us but for our world. If I could lend my voice and tip the scale in the direction for more individual sacrifice, for the greater good, I would. There are just some things that are more important than hanging on to old belief systems and traditions, or taking the easy way out for momentary selfish gains. I am of Irish decent, my husband Polish. In our experience the primary tradition in both our heritages has been drinking. It was not natural, easy, or supported in giving up the drink, rather I equate it to a fish trying to live outside of water; or constantly going against the tide. The results, however, have been pure gift, not just for us but for our world. What felt much like a sacrifice to us resulted in something much more like that of a time lapsed evolutionary process in just one short generation. An evolutionary process that has tipped the scale for the greater good, not just for our nuclear family but for the human family as a whole. If I could lend my voice and help take guns out of the equation, bring Loved ones back or help prevent others, I would.

  2. Hi Pamela,

    That’s not an assault rifle. That’s a 50 caliber sniper rifle, capable of killing a man at 2 miles and shooting the engine block out of a car at a mile. It’s round is about 7 inches long and as big around as my thumb. It was originally the round of the 50 caliber heavy machine gun such as was mounted on WW2 fighter planes. I can’t imagine a civilian use for one. It is literally a man-portable long range artillery piece.

    Guys, you’re a few thousand years late for the megafauna hunt.

    Do those who feel that reasonable regulation of how we buy guns, who can buy guns and what guns are available believe their second amendment rights extend beyond small arms? Mortar anyone? RPG? I hear the Russians are making deals on lightly used tanks. Or maybe a scud is more your style.

    We clearly need better mental health care. We need to screen out as many as we can who have obvious mental issues as evidenced by past history. Military weapons should be highly restricted by the ATF as machine guns currently are. Civilian firearms should be limited to single-action revolvers, shotguns, single action and bolt action rifles with 5 round magazines. A 30 waiting period should be required to purchase any gun.

    But this will not eliminate gun related deaths. We need to all look at out fascination with violence and step back from the gun culture.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Thanks for a nice summary of where we are and where we need to go. Keep the conversation moving forward. I will!

  3. Pamela Wible MD says:

    A weapon designed to kill large numbers of people quickly is used to kill large numbers of people quickly, and there is nearly no regulation. A stethoscope is used to listen to one person at a time slowly. The bureaucracy and regulation make it most challenging to use the stethoscope.

    Why should access to fear and violence be easier than love and healing?

  4. Hi Dr. Wible,
    Thanks so much for sharing. I really loved your post. It was authentic and quite courageous. In fact, I quoted you and included a link to your article in my own post on gun violence at http://msp3kina.com/2013/01/20/president-obama-tackles-gun-violence-in-america-2/. Your personal story was quite interesting, as well. I am a pathologist by training, so I can definitely relate to your experience spending time in the morgue in your early years. Gunshot wound autopsies (GSWs) were always difficult for me, particularly when they involved children. I will never forget a case that I handled years ago in which a father killed his own children at close range with a shotgun and then committed suicide. The images of those poor children in blood-soaked Batman and Superman pajamas is something that I wish that I could forget, but I just can’t. Something must be done about the way that guns are handled in this country.

  5. Hi Dr. Wible,
    Thanks so much for sharing. I really loved your post. It was authentic and quite courageous. In fact, I quoted you and included a link to your article in my own post on gun violence at http://msp3kina.com/2013/01/20/president-obama-tackles-gun-violence-in-america-2/. Your personal story was quite interesting, as well. I am a pathologist by training, so I can definitely relate to your experience spending time in the morgue in your early years. Gunshot wound autopsies (GSWs) were always difficult for me, particularly when they involved children. I will never forget a case that I handled years ago in which a father killed his own children at close range with a shotgun and then committed suicide. The images of those poor children in blood-soaked Batman and Superman pajamas are something that I wish that I could forget, but I just can’t. Something must be done about the way that guns are handled in this country.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      The imagery of the blood-soaked children is potent. I worked with a forensic pathologist who specialized in child abuse cases one summer. The pink elephant barrette in the 6-year old afro is what stays with me. The gun issues will ease as we shift from a patriarchal warrior culture to a more nurturing maternal society.

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