Medical Societies Call for Reducing Gun-Related Injury, Death

Laurie Barclay, MD

February 23, 2015

Eight health professional organizations and the American Bar Association have released a call for action to reduce firearm-related injury and death in the United States, according to a statement published online February 23 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

"In the United States, firearm-related deaths and injuries are a major public health problem that requires diligent and persistent attention," write Steven E. Weinberger, MD, from the American College of Physicians in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and colleagues. "Each year, more than 32,000 persons die as a result of firearm-related violence, suicides, and accidents in the United States; this rate is by far the highest among industrialized countries. Firearms are the second-leading cause of death due to injury after motor vehicle crashes for adults and adolescents."

The statement notes that many physicians have witnessed the effect of firearm-related injury and death on their patients' lives, and therefore renew their commitment to helping prevent these outcomes. As a result, their professional organizations are now calling for policies to reduce firearm-related injuries and deaths in the United States without violating the Second Amendment.

The medical societies sponsoring the effort include the American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Public Health Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American College of Emergency Physicians.

Specific recommendations include the following:

  • Criminal background checks should be a universal requirement for all gun purchases or transfers of ownership.

  • The organizations represented in the statement oppose state and federal mandates interfering with physician free speech and the patient–physician relationship, such as laws preventing physicians from discussing a patient's gun ownership.

  • All persons who have a mental or substance use disorder should have access to mental health care, as these conditions can play a significant role in firearm-related suicide. However, the statement warns against broad inclusion of all persons with any mental or substance use disorder in a category of persons prohibited from purchasing firearms.

  • Recognition that blanket reporting laws requiring healthcare providers to report patients who show signs of potentially causing serious harm to themselves or others may stigmatize persons with mental or substance use disorders and create barriers to treatment. The statement urges that such laws protect confidentiality, do not deter patients from seeking treatment, and allow restoration of firearm purchase or possession in a way that balances the patient's rights with public safety.

  • There should be restrictions for civilian use on the manufacture and sale of large-capacity magazines and military-style assault weapons, as private ownership of these represents a grave danger to the public.

"We believe that multidisciplinary, interprofessional collaboration is critical to bringing about meaningful changes to reduce the burden of firearm-related injuries and death on persons, families, communities, and society in general," the statement authors conclude. "We are committed to working with all stakeholders to find effective solutions through reasonable regulation to keep firearms out of the hands of persons who are at risk for using them to intentionally or unintentionally harm themselves or others, as well as prevention, early intervention, and treatment of mental and substance use disorders."

Contacting Representatives

An accompanying editorial by Darren Taichman, MD, PhD, and colleagues urges physicians to do all they can to ensure that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and other government research institutions are sufficiently funded to study how to reduce firearm-related injury. Laws calling for evidence-based strategies to prevent firearm-related injury also should be enforced, and the authors include a sample letter physicians can send to their Congressional representatives.

A related article published in the same issue shows that persons hospitalized for a firearm-related injury are at much greater risk for subsequent firearm-related violence or death.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Ann Intern Med. Published online February 23, 2015.


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