Barbara (that's not her real name) is a 102-pound sprite who came to my just-opened practice in 1988. During a routine exam, a discussion of contraception brought on a flood of tears, and I learned her secret: She had been raped a few years earlier, during her first weeks as a teacher in Ohio. A student had attacked her at school while two others played lookout.
Barbara had quit her job and moved with her family to Indiana, but she'd been afraid to tell them about the rape. I persuaded her to end her silence. Her husband was extremely supportive, and she was able to draw strength from close friends at her church. I like to think my support as her family physician helped, as well.
In addition to addressing the health and marital issues arising from the violent attack, I referred Barbara to another patient of mine -- a policewoman. The officer helped her select a handgun, learn to use it, and obtain a permit to carry it concealed. Ohio allows no citizen permits, but Indiana issues one to citizens who do not have a history of reckless or criminal conduct.
I didn't realize how much having a firearm meant to Barbara until she expressed considerable anxiety about the passage of a "gun-free school" act. She'd taken another teaching job since moving, and the new law made her a criminal unless she parked away from the school and left her gun in the car -- neither sensible nor safe. She left teaching, taking a big cut in pay to work at a church-run women's shelter.
One day, after she'd taken her son's forgotten lunch to his school, she realized with a shudder that she'd committed a felony by walking into the building with a gun in her possession.
Since Barbara won't leave a gun in her car where a thief or child might find it, she shows up for appointments with it tucked discreetly in a concealed holster, but that doesn't bother me. Barbara's determination to protect herself and her children isn't limited to owning a handgun, but if the locks, alarms, and other precautions fail, she has resolved never to be a victim again. Protecting her safety outweighs being politically correct.
I have lots of Barbaras in my practice, though most have less dramatic histories. In Indiana, about 7 percent of adults have a license to carry a concealed handgun. I actively encourage my responsible patients to consider owning firearms. After reading thousands of pages on the subject, I'm convinced that unfettered firearms ownership reduces violence -- by tipping the balance of power away from the criminal -- and that our Constitution's authors considered it essential for preserving social order.
If the gun issue is germane to concerns of public health, we must discuss not just the costs of firearms ownership but the benefits, as well.
The author is a board-certified family physician in Indianapolis. He is a founding member of Doctors For Sensible Gun Laws.