OMA Spotlight on Health

Physician Advocacy against Guns with Dr. Najma Ahmed Part 2

June 26, 2020 Ontario Medical Association Season 1 Episode 21
OMA Spotlight on Health
Physician Advocacy against Guns with Dr. Najma Ahmed Part 2
Show Notes Transcript

Part 2 focuses on how doctors are advocating for changes in firearm legislation in Canada. Featuring Dr. Najma Ahmed a physician leader with Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns and trauma surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital.

OMA Podcast Episode 21: Physician Advocacy against Guns with Dr. Najma Ahmed


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Voice-over: In this podcast the Ontario Medical Association looks at current health issues that are on everyone’s mind. Spotlight on Health gives you the straight talk. We’re Ontario’s doctors and your health matters to us.


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Anne Marie Flanagan: I’m Anne Marie Flanagan, and I’m the Director of Media Relations and Social Media for the Ontario Medical Association.


Dr. Najma Ahmed: And my name is Najma Ahmed. I'm a trauma surgeon in Toronto and professor of surgery at the University of Toronto.


Flanagan: And we're here today to talk about gun violence.


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Flanagan: The Canadian government recently announced a ban on 1,500 types of assault-style firearms that's effective immediately. Does this meet what the Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns have advocated for?


Dr. Ahmed: Yeah, on May 1, 2020, the Prime Minister announced that 1,500 types of semi-automatic rifles with sustained rapid-fire capacity were banned from sale or use, transport or lending in Canada. And I think this is a really important policy change.


This is part of a multi-pronged approach. This is very, very important policy change, which prohibits these highly lethal weapons which have been used in mass shootings around the world. So it's really, really important.


There is more to do—of course there's more to do, there always is more to do. I know we will be looking at how the government implements an effective buyback program from gun vendors and gun owners who own these weapons. 


We will be looking to work with the governments at all levels to consider how we can make the proliferation of handguns in our, particularly urban communities but also rural communities, less, and how we can decrease the burden of injury and death from handguns.


We'll be looking at framing red flag laws that can protect women and children in abusive situations, and we'll be looking at remedies for poverty and crime in urban populations that will address the socioeconomic determinants of health.


So it's really a multi-pronged approach. And I think, when I think about firearm legislation in Canada, I think that—just about out of the woods, but there is still more work to do.


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Flanagan: When we look at the recent tragic situation that happened in Nova Scotia, which was the largest mass shooting in Canadian history, this kind of legislation that was introduced, would that help this sort of situation? Or some of the pieces that you've mentioned, do you think there's certain pieces there that would specifically help this kind of thing from happening in the future?


Dr. Ahmed: Sadly, I know Canadians had to witness, again, the results of proliferation of highly lethal weapons in our communities. And the weapons that were banned on May 1, many of those weapons have been used in mass shootings around the world. Specifically, the AR-15 was banned, which was used in New Zealand a couple of years ago to kill 51 people.


I understand that two of the rifles that were used in the mass shooting in Nova Scotia are on the list of banned weapons currently banned. So absolutely these weapons allow people to kill and maim a large number of people in a very short period of time. They're not used for hunting. They're not the kinds of weapons that are used to hunt big game or waterfowl. They really are used to hunt and kill people. They're weapons of war, and they have no place in civilian life.


This change in the classification and regulation of these highly lethal weapons will make Canadians safer.


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Flanagan: Addressing this problem really requires a multi-pronged, probably multidisciplinary approach, because obviously there's legislation, there's community support, there's mental health support. And do you feel that all of those things are necessary together to really address this problem?


Dr. Ahmed: I think they're all necessary for sure, but absent one or the other is not an excuse not to move forward on one piece or one part of it. You have to take the opportunity to do what you can and be nimble in the moment and utilize the opportunities that present themselves.


Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns will continue to advocate for increased access to mental health resources and anti-poverty efforts to reduce poverty in our urban neighbourhoods – and even in our rural neighbourhoods – to ensure that crime does not become a way of life for certain people.


But we also have to work very hard on making sure that lethal weapons are not as readily available as they have been in the last two decades. In Canada, we've seen the results of that experiment. Our gun fatality rate is much higher than it should or needs to be.


And for other measures of social justice, like maternal mortality rates, or the percentage of people who have access to clean water, or the percentage of people who have access to post-secondary education, Canada ranks really very, very well. But when it comes to gun fatality rates, we do not rank with our peer nations. We rank sadly closer to the U.S. than to countries in Europe.


I mean, when you think about the shooting in Nova Scotia, I know that that community will never be the same. Those families will never be the same. The bullets reverberate for years and generations through families and communities, because it's such a violent way to die. And the most tragic thing about it is, in many, many cases, it's preventable.


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Dr. Ahmed: Even if you think about urban crime, everyone has a story. And it's not that if we take the guns away, we're going to make our society magically less violent. But we will make these encounters much less lethal, will make the violence much less lethal.


If there's no guns, someone might punch somebody, or push them up against a wall, or stab somebody—and I'm a trauma surgeon, I can tell you that the case fatality rate for a stabbing is much, much, much less than for a shooting. And sure, someone might get stabbed and have to rush to the operating room, but they very likely will survive.


If there's a gun involved, in that very instant that those bullets tear through the flesh of that other person, so many lives are shattered. Not just the life of the person who is shot—their family, their friends, their communities—but the person who is shooting that weapon can sometimes be a 17 or 18-year-old kid, and they will be caught up in the criminal justice system for many, many years.


Something to think about.


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Flanagan: There's hundreds of gun-related shootings and deaths that take place in Canada every year. How would you suggest other doctors could get involved, or other members of the public that want to get involved, in advocating for this issue?


Dr. Ahmed: It is our role as physicians to advocate for the public good and for public health. Your voice matters. And it's remarkable to me how impactful and how respected the voice of physicians are at the policy level.


Governments and policymakers want to hear from us. And the reason that is, is because we have no vested interest. Unlike the gun lobby, I have nothing to gain from this. The gun lobby is funded by the people who make guns; they have a lot to gain. I have actually nothing to gain, and much to lose—lots of time and lots of energy to lose in doing this, frankly. And government officials understand that.


They understand that when doctors are asking and pleading and advocating, we're not doing it for ourselves. Our interest is only in the public good.


But if you want to get involved with safer legislation, and policy around guns, and decreasing the proliferation of guns in Canada, please join us. We're at Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns. You can go to our website or you can contact me, Najma Ahmed.


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Voice-over: This podcast is brought to you by the Ontario Medical Association. It is produced and edited by Jodi Crawford Productions. This podcast is not intended to provide medical advice for specific situations and is for general educational purposes only. Please consult your doctor if you have symptoms or questions about your health.


For more information, please visit our website at


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