As a surgeon in Newton, Dr. Michael Reinhorn works to save lives one patient at a time.
But after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Sudbury resident felt compelled to do more.
Working with a friend, a fellow Sudbury resident and doctor, he set up a Facebook group called Citizens for Sensible Gun Policy and has organized a forum with nationally known experts on gun policies that will be held in Sudbury this week. He hopes the event will help educate the public about the accessibility of guns, lead to a greater discussion about gun safety laws in Massachusetts, and eventually spur lawmakers to take action to reduce the number of gun-related deaths.
“Personally, I can make an impact one person at a time,’’ said Reinhorn, a general surgeon. “Through action and advocacy with other people, we have the potential to save a lot more lives.’’
The public forum will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School auditorium.
The event will be moderated by Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian and feature several speakers including Dr. David Hemenway, the author of “Private Guns, Public Health,’’ and a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. Also on the panel will be Dr. Michael Hirsh, acting commissioner of public health for the city of Worcester. He is also director of the pediatric trauma center at the UMass Medical Center in Worcester and the founder of a Worcester gun buy-back program.
“The great benefit of this is to bring people together,’’ Koutoujian said. “An open and honest dialogue around facts will be very helpful in allowing society as a whole to handle the issues we are facing right now.’’
‘What Newtown did for me was wake me up to act. I’ve never been an activist before.’
Reinhorn is working with Dr. Peter Masiakos, an attending pediatric general and trauma surgeon at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, who also serves as an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and is the chair of the Legislative Advocacy Committee of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American College of Surgeons.
Masiakos has been an advocate for youth injury prevention laws such ATV safety, sports safety, and safe driving laws and has come to realize that physicians have a unique ability to work with politicians to enact meaningful injury prevention legislation.
“The physician’s role as healer and educator can be effectively extended into the political process, and in addition medical records can be studied to determine the efficacy of our efforts and to validate proposals for new laws,’’ he said. “Going forward, I envision that health care providers, mental health experts, responsible gun owners, and legislators will work together to enact effective and sustainable gun policies and mental health laws so that we can provide a safer environment for our children.’’
Reinhorn said he’s never been actively involved in a cause or issue before but couldn’t stand on the sidelines after 20 students and six adults were shot and killed by a gunman at a school in December.
After attending a candlelight vigil in his hometown, he decided to reach out to colleagues and friends like Masiakso to get the ball rolling.
“What Newtown did for me was wake me up to act,’’ he said “I’ve never been an activist before other than advocating for my patients.’’
Reinhorn said he doesn’t know enough about the problem to offer a solution, which is why he’s bringing in experts. He hopes the public will learn about what laws or policies work and then persuade lawmakers to follow through with meaningful change.
“For me, it’s about educating the MetroWest community and getting Massachusetts talking about this and seeing where it goes,’’ Reinhorn said. “Our job is to become so vocal that our voices are heard.’’
Hirsh, who has been working on gun violence issues since a colleague was shot and killed outside their New York hospital nearly 30 years ago, will focus his comments at the forum on the benefits of a gun buy-back program. But he acknowledged that the problem requires a multi-faceted approach.
“When there is so much heat about a topic and not much light, I’m hoping that getting people with expertise to harness some of this passion and energy will give us a focus,’’ Hirsh said.
Hirsh said other potential ideas include better background checks, limiting the number of guns that individuals can purchase, and allowing doctors to ask patients if guns are in the home so families can become better educated about responsible gun ownership.
Democratic Representative David Linsky of Natick said he plans to file a comprehensive gun violence prevention package Friday that includes 25 provisions aimed at reducing gun violence in Massachusetts. The bill would tighten up licensing requirements for gun permits, require large capacity rifles to be stored at gun clubs, and mandate that gun owners have liability insurance. The bill also calls for increasing the sales tax on guns and dedicating the revenue for mental health services.
Linsky said he has been working on gun violence issues for 30 years and wrote the bill with input from criminologists, law enforcement officials, gun experts, and colleagues.
“I think we’ve seen far too many tragedies in Massachusetts and across the nation and people were obviously moved by Newtown,’’ Linsky said. “That was the final straw for a lot of people.’’
Reinhorn hopes that if enough people get involved, other forums will be held around the state.
“I know it’s a problem and we have to have as many people behind the effort as possible so our legislators will wake up and do something about it,’’ Reinhorn said.
For more information on Citizens for Sensible Gun Policy go to www.sensiblegunpolicy.org.Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.