5 out of 5 Stars
“I think people here can’t appreciate it,” she said. “But when you’re from somewhere else you realize how different St. Louis is… The level of gun ownership frightens you.”
That was one of the most arresting realites I found when reading Stu Durando’s book, “Under the Gun – A children’s hospital on the front line of an American crisis.” The book tells the story of gun related deaths and injuries, not from the point of view of the media, or the city officials, or even those of us who see in on the news and shared on social media everyday. What Durando did was speak directly to the doctors and nurses who are the people actually dealing with the crisis everyday in this city. He was also fortunate enough to interview the families at the center of several tragedies.
It’s an angle I was unsure of upon starting the book, but one I appreciated more and more the more pages I turned. The doctors and nurses of St. Louis Children’s Hospital see children at their most devastated, and families at their most vulnerable, the minutes after a bullet has ripped through the flesh of a child.
It is this perspective that gives Under the Gun true power and insight into the actual effects of the epidemic. People like Dr. Martin Keller are not politicians beholden to any side, they are people who have to literally put children back together after bullets get lodeged in a child’s body or blow their midsection nearly completely away. They have to search for a urethra after a little boy accidentally destroys his sisters reproductive system with a 20 gauge he got off the wall “ to play with.” They are the ones that state they don’t care what side of gun control you are on, we have to keep children safe from guns. Period. Politics be damned.
And the stories Durando was able to bring are as varied as they are tragic. From a child in Doniphan, MO almost dying from getting a pellet from his brother’s pellet gun lodged in his skull, to a little girl sleeping in her bathtub because she’s scared to sleep in a room with windows in North City, you see this epidemic isn’t the dominion of one race, religion, neighborhood.
In a book covering this subject matter it would be easy for an author to spout their beliefs and try to force your mind to believe one ideology, but that is never the case with Durando. He lets his interview subjects control the conversation and view of the damage guns have done to the children of St. Louis and other parts of Missouri. He doesn’t preach his feeling on the 2nd amendment or the tenor of American politics in 2019, he keeps the book focused on children, their families, and the doctors and nurses on the front lines.
Nurse Rania Allen is featured nearly halfway through Under the Gun, and to put it plainly, she’s a badass.
“My thing is that I don’t care what someone did on the street. When he comes in here I’m going to treat him…Some (police) try to come back because they say he’s in their custody. That’s my domain back there.”
Her view is similar to everyone else Durando interviewed and features from St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Their first and primary concern is the health of the child, then the authorities can sort out who did what and when. Was it an accident, was it intentional, is the victim also a perpetrator? All of those questions go on hold until the life on the table is saved.
This attitude comes from Dr. Keller on down. Upon arriving at St. Louis Children’s hospital he had to change everything from the tools needed in the ER, to funding for mentoring programs to reduce recidivism of gunshot victims, to foster open and honest communication between the surgical staff and the nurses in the ER. In midst of a crisis of children dying everyday he had to change the culture of two giant departments at one of the busiest trauma centers in the midwest. He’s tired, but he’s still trying everyday.
The end isn’t a happy story with a bow on it. We all see the news and headlines everyday. But, there are amazing people doing amazing work in our city. And, Durando does an excellent job giving voice to their story, and letting them tell it.
Durando- “There were many revelations that helped me better grasp the pervasiveness of guns in some communities, some of which is very unsettling. But I was equally struck by the efforts being made to make changes through programs such as Children’s Hospital’s Victims of Violence program, the Washington University gun initiative and a community conflict resolution program that was recently highlighted in the Post-Dispatch. This is clearly a major problem and there are many efforts being made to reduce the problem.”
I asked him if he had a goal for writing this book since he didn’t let his personal politics bleed into the stories.
“My hope is that the book helps to generate conversations about the topic that wouldn’t otherwise happen. Every discussion creates the possibility that something positive will develop. It’s just my little contribution to the public discourse. Every little bit helps.”
As for me, I’m a book nerd. I read slow, and I read a lot. I’ve read historically great books, and books deemed important by scholars and critics. This however is the first book I’ve read in a long time that I found personally important. And, I can say unequivocally that Under the Gun is an absolute must read for every St. Louisan.