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'This is very much our lane': St. Louis doctor talks politics, gun violence and prevention

Dr. Sonny Saggar has practiced medicine in the St. Louis region for many years but grew up in England. He's worked in hospital emergency rooms in both countries.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

After a tweet by the National Rifle Association last week suggested that medical professionals should “stay in their lane” when it comes to guns, many U.S. doctors responded with messages of their own. Dr. Sonny Saggar, a St. Louis physician, was among those insisting that the issue of gun violence actually falls well within their lane.

“When doctors say, ‘This is our lane, this is my lane,’ they’re basically raising awareness that gun violence is indeed a public health crisis,” Saggar said Thursday on St. Louis on the Air. “If a virus killed 20 kids in five minutes, or if a bacterial strain killed 60 people in 15 minutes – if you’ve got some pathogen randomly attacking schools, churches, nightclubs almost every day of the year, then people would wonder whether doctors had fallen asleep at the wheel.”

Until last December when he started focusing solely on the 24-hour Downtown Urgent Care business he owns, Saggar had worked for many years in hospital emergency rooms around the St. Louis region. He grew up in England and also worked in the ER there before moving to the U.S.

During his 21 years in American medicine, he’s observed many of the bodily and psychological results of gun violence – for those killed and injured, for loved ones and bystanders, and also for colleagues.

“There’s a lot of people who are affected,” Saggar told host Don Marsh. “The question is, who’s actually removing the bullets from the spines and from the hearts? Who’s repairing the bowel and the bones from gunshot wounds? Who’s having to deal with the psychological effects …? [It’s] surgeons, psychiatrists, internists, emergency physicians, OB-GYNs, pediatricians, everyone.”

Saggar touched on some of his own personal leanings with regard to issues such as gun control, as did several listeners who joined the conversation via phone. The doctor also urged community members to think about responsible gun ownership and take proactive measures, such as removing guns from a home where children live.

“If you can’t do that, then [practice] safe storage and safety measures like a loading indicator or a child safety lock on the gun … these things have actually been proven to help reduce gun accidents,” Saggar said.

He added that he thinks it is appropriate for physicians to ask parents and adults about guns.

“I think it’s no different from asking, ‘Is there a fence around your swimming pool? Do you have car seats for your children? Do you smoke around your children?’ … If those questions are intrusive,” Saggar said, “I don’t know what else we can do. We’ve got to ask proactive questions.”

Before discussing several other topics connected to public health, he emphasized his deep concern about American gun culture – something he said he struggles to explain to friends and family abroad.

“When one-third of gun sales require no background checks – for example at a gun show – it’s basically asking for trouble,” Saggar said. “What does it say about a country where it’s now normal – and I can’t think of any other word – it’s normal, [where] it’s just another day, to have a shooting in a school?”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.