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.


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25 comments on “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.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Kerry that is such a beautiful and courageous post. Thank you for sharing yourself with the world.

  2. John McBurney says:

    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. Dorkina Myrick, M.D., Ph.D. says:

    Hi Dr. Wible,
    Thanks so much for sharing. I really loved your post. It was authentic and quite courageous. 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.

  5. Keith says:

    You’re a doctor, buy both. The only thing that’s stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Whenever someone dies a violent death it’s usually because they’re unarmed.

  6. Temujin Hanlon says:

    Very sad and telling commentary of the state of the Nation, when the Second Amendment is misused and deliberately misinterpreted to permit gun manufacturers to sell directly to the public without any of the checks and balances, one would expect. What next: The selling of cars to teenagers with no driving licence? As a matter of interest, as an outsider I have always supposed the Right to bear Arms Amendment was to remind any future despots that the citizenry could defend themselves should there ever arise an unjust or despotic State. As to the argument that says to prevent future massacres of the innocents the best medicine is for the people to carry arms: So why have the police? Finally, as an ex-hunter and previous owner of firearms I am shocked to see the reckless discharge of firearms, pistols and rifles in built up areas, schools and malls. A medium, say .30 calibre bullet from a hunting rifle will easily go through several walls,(excluding brick) travel if unobstructed between 3 to 5 miles and thus is hardly the firearm of choice for non-hunter or city dweller. A 14 shot Browning semi-automatic pistol is not a weapon of “self defense” unless you plan to be in a Mafia shootout. Assault weapons (of the AK-47 or SKS type)and submachine guns have NO useful role in hunting: for a start the former are inaccurate beyond 100 metres being designed to clear a street or building of enemy combatants: their ability to scatter bullets is their strength.
    Wise up America, the gun lobby, wants to sell arms: Every Columbine helps sales…SO who provided these killers with the weapons? Anyone ever really check that? Disillusioned.

  7. Paula M Bortnichak MD says:

    An enlightening article on a dark subject.

  8. Robert P Esser, DDS, MAGD says:

    A very good article, but…
    let’s compare apples to apples and …

    Apples = an inanimate object that is available for purchase on the open market.

    It is easier to purchase a stethoscope than any firearm. There is no paperwork required in the USA to purchase a stethoscope.

    Oranges = a person capable of properly and efficiently using an “apple”

    It is easier to acquire the services of a physician (or any other healthcare professional trained to use a stethoscope – aka MD, DO, DDS, DMD, RN, CRNA, DVM, PA, and whatever variety of providers that are created by government) as they are listed on the websites of MCOs and ACOs that retain their services. Try going online to find a gunslinger who will shot what ever you ask (deer, elk, moose, that annoying neighbor, the paramour that you no longer care for, et al).

    While I am FOR people being able to easily purchase firearms, I am also against people with certain mental diseases owning them.

    Just trying to add some balance to the post and conversation.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Thanks for engaging in the conversation. Just trying to avoid the polarization and encourage intelligent discourse. 🙂

  9. Dr. Badertscher says:

    There are those who happily jump on the tragedy bandwagon to call for greater gun control. More control will not make us safer because evil individuals will find ways to implement their plans regardless of the law. I am strongly opposed to gun registration because that is the same as making yourself a target for politicians to take away your right to defend yourself. I know of numerous examples of killers with guns being stopped by honest upstanding citizens who responsibly carry a firearm. I have been around firearms my entire life. I obtained a personal firearm after an attempted break-in while working on a job in a very remote area. I am a physician but I will defend myself, my family, my friends and those who are threatened. Gun control is never the answer, just look at the laws and crime statistics of places with very strict gun laws like Chicago. Please do not blame guns for the actions of a few evil-minded individuals. Respect the second amendment, it is the only true protection we have as citizens.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Multifactorial etiology. Mental illness. Easily accessible firearms. Hatred. Too few stethoscopes (and people willing to listen to one another). Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Appreciate it.

  10. Linda Clark ret RN says:

    All good comments here but I have to add… Mental illness is the reason for these shootings. Every single one of them. No gun ever jumps up and shoots someone without an ill person behind the trigger. Period. Until people learn how to recognise people suffering from mental illness-in their families, their neighborhood, themselves, everywhere, and then learn how to intervene appropriately, this horrendous problem will continue. And as for the Constitution-the 2nd amendment does NOT stipulate which kind of gun or weapon people have a right to have. But it does stipulate that we as Americans have a duty to fight against Tyranny from our own government.

  11. Kris Myrphy says:

    Dr Wible, you telling a lie….background checks are never conducted BEFORE s buyer selects the gun. The background check process includes listing the type of gun…handgun or long gun…in the process, over the phone, to Federal authorities.

    Glocks are handguns. Bushmaster are long guns.

    So you actually didn’t complete or start the check…?

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      I didn’t start the check. Just wrote this after the gun show. I did get it fact checked by a man who works at the shooting range.

  12. B. Souza says:

    Here we are October 2015. A friend on FB posted your article today. I had never seen this, but just re-posted it far and wide. Thanks, Pamela. I hate that it remains timely and relevant, but it’s nevertheless beautifully written.

  13. Elizabeth C. Berigan, M.D. says:

    In Texas (and California) you also have to have complete fingerprints done–like you were being booked in a jail. We went to a law enforcement agency to have them done. Having seen enough human carnage in various ER’s in this country–maybe it is time to share those photos with the
    American public. Uncomfortable? Yes, it should be–show the broken bodies and congealed polls of blood. Bear witness to those that have been killed. Photos change minds and hearts.

  14. Dave says:

    Do we blame the spoon and fork for making Rosie odonnell fat? Stop blaming inanimate objects and get to the real problem, insane people. The mental health system in the US has never been in worse shape. Feel free to give up all of your constitutional rights if you want please leave mine alone. I don’t need your help (taking my rights of self defense for me and my family away) I can take care of myself.

  15. Peter H. Proctor, PhD, MD says:

    If the discussions on sermo physician website are any indication, the majority of physicians own firearms. I certainly do. I do not abuse them because I was raised in a north Texas town which some years has a lower murder rate than the much-praised UK. Another North Texas town, Plano, had the lowest murder rate in the US in 2012. It is called acculturation. Misuse of firearms is “Just not done”.

    Also, one of the primary complaints we ammosexuals (closet and otherwise) have about the antis is that they rarely bother to learn anything about guns before (er) opening fire on them. E.g., the gun pictured is not an “assault rifle”.

    Stated-simply– This makes you-all appear to be deliberately-ignorant cultural crusaders and immediately cuts off any useful dialog. In turn, I put this studied ignorance down to the fact that many people are frankly clinically-phobic about guns and this sometimes prevents them from properly researching the subject. A tip-off is wanting to ban a certain class of guns merely on the basis of physical appearance. You know who you are.

    OTOH, there is general agreement that the real “gun problem” is in the inner city and must be solved at that level. E.g. Quoting from two well-known antigun activists:

    Garen Wintemute:”Firearm homicides among black males aged 20 to 29 are five times higher than those among Hispanic males and at least 20 times higher than for white males. Homicide rates for black females are also higher than rates for Hispanics and whites.”

    Similarly, Mike Bloomberg at an An Aspen Institute conference. “..95 percent of your murders and murderers and murder victims fit one M.O. You can just take the description and Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities 15 to 25. That’s true in New York, it’s true in virtually every city in America. And that’s where the real crime is. You’ve got to get the guns out of the hands of the people that are getting killed.”

    Tellingly, Mr Bloomberg requested that all copies of this statement be destroyed.

    • Jolie Bea, student says:

      Out of the 12 most recent mass shooting in the US, only one shooter was black.

      This video puts the conversation back into perspective, “Some people think that suicide isn’t really relevant to the gun issue.. but the methods people use are important because often stem from temporary crisis. The vast majority of people who survive suicide attempts don’t end up dying from suicide but guns make it nearly impossible to get that second chance.”
      Gun suicides are increasing, the majority of victims being white males. Meanwhile homicides are declining, the overwhelming majority of victims being young black men.

      I was super excited when I moved to Oregon because I thought with my loan money for med school I could buy a gun. I was wrong, I need that money to live and the gun became less of a priority. I value towns in North Texas that can keep gun violence low and I wish all towns could be as wise. I wish I had the time to learn all about guns and how they work. I have some friends who have taught me about double safeties and hunting rifles, but truthfully I know very little about them.
      I want to echo what kerry augustyniak stated above in her comment from 2013:
      “If I could lend my voice and tip the scale in the direction for more individual sacrifice, for the greater good, I would”
      To me, black lives and less mass murders are the greater good. Less suicides are the greater good, greater than owning a gun to protect myself. Some of the people i love most in my life have suicidal ideation and those people are some of the most genius healers I know making incredible contributions to society. I know there are most of them out there and I want them to have their second chances.
      To me, the wisest gun owners, those who carry with skill and not paranoiac fear, would be the best people to ask about how to carry safely to protect all people, not just an individual and their family. I ask of the wise gun owners, can you come up with something that both allows the wise and skilled to keep their armories and teach and model good handling to others AND protect the innocent masses and individuals from unskilled and impulsive gun handling aka killing?
      Thank you Pamela for your article and starting the conversation of the only commentary I’ve brought myself to read on the topic. I look forward to browsing your website more and hearing more from a person who is dear to me how you counsel other doctors in being true to themselves in their livelihood.

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