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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

In addition, click here for a package of recent articles on how active-shooter drills affect children's emotional well-being, how physicians in gun-friendly states talk with patients about firearm safety, and more.

The United States is now sharply divided on many important questions, and physicians are part of the dialogue. We asked physicians for their opinions on 10 controversial social issues that US residents feel strongly about, including where they stand, the issues' relative importance, and how each issue has affected their work lives and families.

Some surveys show strong majorities of doctors back stricter gun laws. However, gun ownership among physicians is high, and many physicians balk at including guns as a health concern in their patient conversations.

Over 2300 physicians in more than 29 specialties gave their thoughts on the importance of gun control vs other social priorities, the effectiveness of US gun control measures and laws, and other relevant topics.

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

In the Medscape survey, physicians ranked social issues by importance. Overall, gun control was fourth-most-chosen as a top issue behind healthcare access, substance/opioid abuse, and climate change. Doctors age 55 years or older are slightly likelier to view gun control as highly important than are those younger than 35 years.

These results may reflect pushback by younger doctors against characterizing gun issues in a mental health — rather than access — context, says Paul Nestadt, MD, of Johns Hopkins University, a psychiatrist who studies gun violence.

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

Nearly 7 in 10 physicians think federal, state, and/or local gun laws in the United States need to be stricter. Almost all doctors have an opinion about the toughness of gun laws, one way or the other. Perhaps recognizing such support among physicians for stricter legislation, the American Medical Association this year and in 2018 recommended tougher policies to prevent gun violence.

However, the general American population doesn't see gun laws as too lax as often as physicians do, Nestadt says. "More than anything else in American life, attitudes about the gun issue are about political ideology. The political 'tribe' you identify with has a bigger impact on your opinion than your profession."

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

Though male and female physicians are equally likely to see gun control as an important social issue, women more often view gun laws as too lax.

"I have noticed that my female colleagues…seem to more often think in terms of injury prevention and what we can do to protect our youngest, when it comes to gun control," says Alok Patel, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health who has studied the effects of gun violence. "From my experience, more men tend to skew toward Second Amendment rights."

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

Physicians younger than age 35 view gun laws as too lax at a somewhat greater rate than do their older counterparts do.

"Typically, when people are asked if the gun laws are tough enough, it is the younger population who tends to feel we aren't doing enough," Nestadt says. "2018 and the Parkland shootings were when gun control became an issue that young people really identified with. Parkland dramatically changed the demographics of who is fighting for gun control."

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

Nearly 8 in 10 physicians either support private ownership of nonautomatic handguns and long guns or would let US citizens own any gun they choose.

"Physicians come in all shapes and sizes, from all states, all ages, and all types of political backgrounds," Patel says. "When physicians advocate for gun control and for measures to reduce gun violence, that should not be misinterpreted as, 'They want to take our guns.' There's been a false narrative that public health and physicians want to…repeal Second Amendment rights. I personally know physicians who own automatic weapons and still support gun control."

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

By big margins, physicians back measures that are commonly debated for inclusion in state gun laws. However, that majority opinion is smaller when it comes to psychological exams. Patel speculates that some physicians are concerned "about stigmatizing those with mental illness as being more inherently dangerous or violent, or about the resources it would take to do a thorough psych evaluation, or about standardizing an exam across all 50 states and removing bias."

Nestadt argues that the age minimum for gun ownership should be even higher than 18 years, because research shows more than half of US gun deaths are suicides. "There is a high-risk period for suicide in the late teen years … and I think an increase in that [age] limit would very likely show a decrease in suicide."

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

Doctors show no gender gap in how often they see gun control as a leading social issue for the country, even though studies on the general population show that "women do tend to have more positive responses about gun control," Nestadt says.

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

Physicians in Mid-Atlantic states like New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania and in New England put somewhat greater importance on the gun control issue than do their counterparts in states such as Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Alabama (in the West South Central or East South Central regions).

This tracks data for the general US population, which shows that the South leads all regions in percentage of households owning a gun and the Northeast trails the pack.

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

About 1 in 10 physicians say they individually, or their families, have been affected in some way by gun control efforts. There's no significant difference in how often male and female doctors say so.

A distinction must be drawn between the impacts of gun control and gun violence on families, Patel says. The former is influenced by where a physician lives, he notes: For example, have that state's lawmakers allowed concealed carry or tried to ban automatic weapons? "In a lot of states, physicians may be passionate about gun violence, but gun control may not directly affect their nuclear family."

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

As with other issues in the Medscape survey, raising or donating money and volunteering time are the approaches doctors choose most often to get involved in gun control, on either side of the issue. The age of physicians seems to have little influence, except that younger doctors are likelier to post on social media about gun issues.

"Many physicians would like to attend protests or volunteer in person but simply don't have the time. So I'm not surprised that many instead decide to donate money," Patel says.

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

The American Medical Association centralizes articles, white papers, meeting announcements, and other resources on gun violence in one central location.

The American Public Health Association curates videos and webinars, fact sheets, and articles relevant to its call for a comprehensive public health approach to gun violence. The APHA also posts resources on how to get involved with advocacy efforts.

The American Academy of Family Physicians has published a position paper characterizing gun violence as a public health epidemic and that links to resources on detecting depression, why background checks should be stiffened, and other topical material.

The American Psychiatric Association has publicly called for "strong controls" on firearms availability and partnered with five other medical organizations to address prevention of gun violence as a public health concern.

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

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Gun Control: Physicians Speak Out 2022

Jon McKenna | October 7, 2022 | Contributor Information

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Physicians' Views on Today's Divisive Social Issues Report 2022: Strong Emotions, Contrary Opinions

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