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Surgeons' group issues urgent call for new gun safety measures

National Rifle Association (NRA) annual convention in Houston
Saint Victor AR-15 Rifle is displayed during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual convention in Houston, Texas, U.S. May 27, 2022. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

President Biden called on Congress Thursday night to take action on a series of gun safety measures that echo the recommendations a group of surgeons made in 2018 and renewed in the hours before the president's address, calling it "urgent."

Among the American College of Surgeons members who took part in the Trauma Committee's Firearms Strategy Team was San Antonio trauma surgeon Dr. Donald Jenkins. He's also a gun owner and life member of the NRA.

Jenkins, a surgeon at University Hospital and a professor at UT Health San Antonio Long School of Medicine, has loved shooting since he was a child. He’s former Air Force. He spent more than 700 days in combat zones. He owns an AR-15 and enjoys shooting it.

"And I know probably more than some about ballistics. That's probably why we're talking," Jenkins said.

It's that understanding of ballistics; of what high capacity, magazine fed, semi-automatic, high velocity firearms like the AR-15 can do to a body that drew Jenkins to the Firearms Strategy Team. He believed there had to be a way to craft legislation that would both save lives and preserve gun rights.

Jenkins believes the surgeons managed to thread that needle, which is why, on Thursday, the group reissued the call for lawmakers to adopt their recommendations.

The first recommendation is the adoption of universal background checks.

"That could be applied ubiquitously in the in the 50 states with little to no infrastructure and just a small amount of inconvenience," Jenkins said. "I think we would be able to ferret out some people who shouldn't be allowed to legally purchase firearms."

There is an added benefit associated with universal background checks, Jenkins added. The bureaucracy involved creates waiting periods.

"You're going to fill out a questionnaire. You're going to give them your fingerprints. It takes about two weeks for you to get that little card in the mail from the sheriff, and then you can go to the sporting goods store and submit yourself to the federal background checks," Jenkins explained. "So in that way, there is sort of a built in waiting period."

American College of Surgeons
American College of Surgeons
Recommendations for new gun safety measures from the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma Firearms Strategy Team.

The group also recommends a database of gun registrations, gun safety training for all new gun owners, and red flag laws to temporarily restrict gun ownership for those deemed to be a threat to themselves and others.

Jenkins parts ways with the president on the idea of an assault weapons' ban, but he agrees that it should be much more difficult for a person to by an AR-15 style weapon. The College of Surgeons firearms group recommends that these types of guns be reclassified as Class III weapons under the National Firearms Act.

“Those would be weapons that a lot of people mistakenly believe are illegal, things like sawed-off shotguns and fully automated...machine guns and such," Jenkins said. "Those are class III weapons and it probably takes six months following your application and a little bit more intensive background checks, plus the bit of additional cost that it would take.”

Jenkins said it takes about six months after applying for a license to buy a Class III weapon before you can own that weapon.

“That potentially builds in some of that waiting time where people wouldn't be as as impulsive to purchase a high capacity magazine, high velocity weapon," Jenkins said. "But it would not make it illegal to do that. It would just change that classification."

Of the 22 surgeons who put together this list of recommendations, 18 are gun owners. Jenkins says a lot of gun owners — including fellow members of the NRA — are on board with these types of changes. But what about those who shut down any talk of restrictions at all?

"People have a hard time hearing that we need to do something, and envision that what that means is eventually we are going to abolish the Second Amendment. So therefore, no, I don't really want to talk about it. They make these gigantic leaps," Jenkins said.

Jenkins doesn’t plan to give up his guns, he added, but he thinks there’s a balance to be found between liberty and life.

"We just need to keep trying. We can't get demoralized about it because if you do, then you give up."

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie