PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Just two weeks after the shooting deaths of 17 students and staff at a Parkland, Fla., high school in 2018, Megan Ranney’s long-simmering frustration boiled over.
As an associate professor at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School who had founded the school’s Emergency Digital Health Innovation Program, and an emergency physician at Rhode Island Hospital, Ranney had reached an intense moment of exasperation in her efforts to find research-based solutions to the country’s epidemic of gun violence.
An active social media user, Ranney tried a new approach, tweeting out the harrowing accounts of gun violence across the nation that she’d gathered, under the label #docs4gunsense. Her messages got enormous immediate notice, and within days there were hundreds of doctors posting stories of loss and anger under the hashtag she coined.
Less than nine months later, Ranney found herself in the lead of another high-wattage situation played out in social media. In response to a paper on firearm injuries and deals published by the American College of Physicians, the National Rifle Association sent out a tweet telling “self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.” Ranney said she was stunned, yet quickly moved to the forefront of those organizing a rebuttal campaign as #ThisIsOurLane. Fueled further by another mass shooting just a few hours later in Thousand Oaks, Calif., the physicians’ hashtag flooded Twitter with tens of thousands of messages.
For Ranney, who also earned an MPH degree from Brown, her interest in gun safety issues and research grew from her emergency department experiences. Over and over, she saw how firearms cases were unusual, particularly how so many were fatal. She was shocked at how many involved suicides, where the presence of an unmonitored gun in a house was connected to a spontaneous act that caused death. She calls the large number of suicide deaths in the United States by guns a “silent epidemic.”
Early in her career, Ranney, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, found herself drawn to firearm safety research. She was discouraged from going into the field and quickly found one of the main reasons: an act of Congress in 1996 — a still-in-place rider known as the Dickey Amendment — had almost completely choked off all federal funds for gun safety research.