When emergency room Dr. Shayla Garrett-Hauser visits schools to talk about her job, kids always ask her to tell them about the grossest thing she’s ever seen.
That’s easy: It was two decades ago, staring down at a woman with a bullet hole in her forehead. She was agitated, her brain swelling. Suddenly, a piece of her skull popped out and hit the floor. Remarkably, the patient survived being shot from a distance by a small, 22-caliber gun.
“Now I think about how long it has been since I’ve seen that kind of thing. And the answer is, 25 years. Because we don’t see those guns anymore,” Garrett-Hauser said.
Garrett-Hauser worked for years at a Level 1 trauma center on Chicago’s south side before recently moving to Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal. She’s treated hundreds of gunshot victims. Many were survivable wounds—until recently.
The rise of more powerful weaponry in the U.S. has simply made it harder to survive being shot. A bullet leaves an AR-15 at three times the speed of a 9mm handgun bullet.
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“You're talking just huge increases in the amount of energy that the body is going to take,” she said. “You can imagine what would happen to small school children if someone comes in with that type of weapon. There are not open caskets because these are people who are cut in half.”
Authorities say an AR-15 was used to kill Jody Gardner, 20, and Reggie Hart Jr., 19, in Normal on April 25. Gardner was shot 13 times, including nine rounds to the back of his head and back; Hart suffered eight gunshot wounds to his head, neck, back and legs.
Bloomington Police have seen a similar shift to more powerful guns.
“It’s the physics behind the weapon,” said BPD crime analyst Jack McQueen. “A handgun of whatever caliber may or may not penetrate a car door. But a rifle of any quality or caliber, it’s a whole other animal for the level of danger. Because if you miss your target, it’s going to keep going. If you hit your target, it’s going to keep going.”
Garrett-Hauser is not the only doctor concerned about gun violence. The American Medical Association this month adopted sweeping measures aimed at reducing gun violence, a problem it considers a public health crisis.
At its annual policymaking meeting in Chicago, the AMA voted to press for a ban on assault weapons and came out against arming teachers. The meeting comes against the backdrop of recurrent school shootings, everyday street violence and rising suicide rates in the U.S. Doctors say they are frustrated with lawmakers' inaction on gun violence.
“I think as healthcare providers, we become numb to it. So it just becomes the new norm,” Garrett-Hauser said. “We have a violence problem. People think it's normal. And I think that's a really sad commentary as to where the society has gone as far as our tolerance for violence.”
In an interview before a recent shift at the BroMenn ER, Garrett-Hauser didn’t just single out guns as the cause of gun violence. She described what she saw as a constellation of factors—from poor parenting to violence in video games. But guns are what brings mortally wounded human beings into her life, over and over again.
Inner cities are wracked by street shootings, she said, and suburban schools are targets too.
“I’m here to tell you the entire country has a violence problem,” she said.
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