Mercy Hospital shooting: A domestic dispute, more gun deaths. When will it stop?

Emergency physician Tamara O’Neal, one of the victims of the shooting at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, one of the worst attacks on hospitals in the U.S. in two decades.

It started, as do so many fatal shootings, as a domestic dispute.

A mass shooting at a Chicago hospital ended with four people dead, including the suspected shooter. He confronted his ex-fiancee in a hospital parking lot and shot her, leaving her for dead. He entered the lobby of Chicago’s Mercy Hospital, ready to keep shooting, while frightened staff and patients ran for cover. He shot a police officer responding to the scene and a pharmacy technician who just happened to be on an elevator with doors that opened into the gunman’s line of fire. By the end, the three victims were dead, as was the gunman, who was shot by police before he shot himself.

We can’t even say that was the latest mass shooting in the U.S., because there were five such incidents yesterday. That we know about.

The Washington Post rounded them up with the headline, “This just tears at the soul: 1 day, 5 cities, 11 killings.” Besides the Chicago shooting:

  • Someone shot into a group of crowd of homeless people in Denver, apparent motive unknown. Five were injured, one fatally.
  • Police found four people dead in a Philadelphia basement in an apparent execution-style slaying.
  • Just outside St. Louis, a gunman burst into a Catholic Supply store, sexually assaulted several women, then fatally shot one woman in the head. He fled the scene and is still at large.
  • Two were killed and a third was injured after a shooting and stabbing at a Boston housing complex. The incident took place just outside a children’s center.

It’s not surprising that people feel numb at news of another day of mass shootings. These incidents come only weeks after the mass shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and at a nightclub in Thousand Oaks, California. Mass shootings are defined as incidents in which four or more people are shot. So far in 2018, there have been at least 316 mass shootings.

The killings at Mercy Hospital in Chicago paralyzed the city, especially as it saw a young police officer killed along with the emergency physician and pharmacy tech. But more than half of all gunmen (and yes, they are men) who perpetrate mass shooting are also guilty of domestic violence. Some have police records, yet they still have access to firearms, even when they are legally prohibited from owning one. More than half of such shootings are related to domestic or family violence. This was true for so many mass shooters — Business Insider reports that “Nine of the shooters on this list of the top 10 most deadly mass shootings in modern America committed violence against women, threatened violence against women, or disparaged women.”

So when emergency physician Tamara O’Neal was shot and killed outside Mercy Hospital, it wasn’t a surprise that it was by her domestic partner.

As dangerous as domestic violence is for women, it also is lethal for police. The most dangerous kinds of calls police respond to are ones involving domestic violence. The family of Samuel Jimenez, the officer killed when responding to the Mercy Hospital shooting, learned that all too well, as he left behind a wife and three young children. According to a story in USA Today:

In 2017, more officers were shot responding to domestic violence than any other type of firearm-related fatality, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. From 1988 to 2016, 136 officers were killed while responding to domestic disturbances such as family arguments, FBI data show. By comparison, 80 were killed during a drug-related arrest in the same period. …

The pattern of repeated abuse makes domestic violence calls particularly dangerous for officers. A 2008 study by the National Institute of Justice determined that victims of domestic violence are more likely to call the police after repeated assaults have already taken place — which puts police officers in an even more volatile situation when they do respond.

We can’t let ourselves become numb to gun violence. The National Rifle Association started (and lost) a social media skirmish with the nation’s physicians when it told doctors to “stay in their lane” when they called for action on gun reform. Doctors everywhere responded with #ThisIsOurLane when they told personal stories of treating gunshot victims. An editorial in The Annals of Internal Medicine states clearly that treating victims of gun violence is the lane of doctors — one that too many have to navigate daily.

Firearm-related injury in the United States is a public health crisis. …

Doctors have a responsibility as health care professionals and scientists to seek the answers to questions related to health and safety. And we won’t be silenced in using what we learn to better care for our patients. Those who seek to silence progress toward finding solutions to the crisis of firearm-related injury are traveling a lane that leads, literally, to a dead end. We’re going to stay in our lane and keep moving forward.

After Dr. O’Neal’s death, many physicians across the country said, “Enough.” According to a story in The Washington Post, doctors across the country are issuing calls to action, asking their colleagues to speak out and demand laws that will fight gun violence.

A column in The Denver Post summed it up: “None of us should be willing to wait for that catastrophe to force our elected officials to take action on common-sense gun safety like banning high-capacity magazines, requiring universal background checks, banning bump stocks and enacting strong red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of those who are dangerous.”

When will it stop? How many more victims will it take?

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