Teddy Bears for Guns Nets Two Weapons, Raises Public Awareness By Steve Libowitz Swapping a gun for a stuffed teddy bear may seem like a peculiar exchange at first, but Richard Humphrey believes it makes an important point. "There are at least four broad types of federal safety standards covering teddy bears," said Dr. Humphrey. "There are no federal safety standards for the domestic manufacture of guns." Dr. Humphrey, associate professor of pathology, medicine and oncology, is the immediate past president of the Baltimore chapter of the nationwide Physicians for Social Responsibility. He and his colleagues at the East Baltimore campus joined four other hospitals to stage a Teddy Bears for Guns exchange on Nov. 12 to dramatize the public health problems caused by guns. "We need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like we did with cigarettes," said Mark Rosenberg, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention, in an interview last month with the New York Times. "It used to be that smoking was a glamorous symbol, cool, sexy, macho. Now it is dirty and deadly and banned." At day's end, 32 rifles, assault guns or handguns were turned in at the five institutions, including one rifle and a pistol at Hopkins. The weapons were presented to 15 medical students and one nursing student, Dennis Kuzmickas who managed the Hopkins effort throughout the day. "Our students did not handle the guns at all," Dr. Hum-phrey said. "We were very fortunate for the enthusiastic support of Joseph Coppola [chief of East Baltimore's security force] and his officers as well as Baltimore police officers, who actually accepted the weapons and disarmed them." Although there were no security problems, the day did have its moments, Dr. Humphrey said. "People turning in guns were asked to conceal them in a bag. But the young woman who brought in the pistol carried it across the Caroline Street parking lot dangling it from her hand, like she was carrying a dead rat," he said. "This was about a $400 to $600 32-caliber Smith and Wesson her father had given to her for protection. But she has a four-month-old child now and wanted it out of her house. "And that's the message we wanted to make with this event," he said. "Guns, especially in the home, are more than a social problem. They're a health problem. Each gun injury involving an admission to the emergency room costs the hospital about $33,000 in medical expenses, and if the victim does not have insurance, the community, in some way, literally pays. And every two minutes, someone in this country is shot." The message of the Physicians for Social Responsibility is an educational one: they would like to raise public awareness of the health hazard of all guns, and call attention to the fact that many of the guns used in criminal activities were originally stolen from burglarized homes. Dr. Humphrey was pleased with the turn-in, noting that even one less gun in the home or on the street was one less person who might be killed or injured and one less gun that could be used in criminal activity. Recent statistics claim that every 14 minutes, somebody in the country dies from a gunshot wound. In 1990, there were 37,000 gun-related deaths in the United States. "Teddy bears in the home or on the street killed no one last year," Dr. Humphrey said, "yet they are heavily regulated by federal law. If that seems bizarre, it is. That's the point we want to make."
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