AMA: Ban Assault Weapons and Don't Arm Teachers

Marcia Frellick

June 14, 2018

CHICAGO — Teachers should not be armed, and the sale and ownership of all assault-style weapons should be banned, delegates agreed here at the American Medical Association (AMA) 2018 Annual Meeting, where they adopted a slate of new policies for gun control.

"This was not a lightly taken decision," said Steven Thornquist, MD, an alternate delegate from Connecticut.

Debate in the reference committees and then on the House floor went on for hours, he reported.

Thornquist, who earned a marksman medal from the National Rifle Association as a teen, but is no longer a gun owner or a member of the organization, said he is satisfied with the policies adopted.

Some controls are appropriate for gun sales and ownership, especially when the weapon is not designed for hunting, but "to create as much damage as possible," he told Medscape Medical News. "My personal feeling is that if you need an AR-15 to kill a deer, you probably shouldn't be hunting."

Thornquist said he understands and has experienced pleasure when hunting, but "as fun as it is, it's also fun to see my patients stay alive and enjoy their lives."

Some of the New Policies for Gun Control

Ban the sale and ownership of all assault-type weapons, bump stocks and related devices, high-capacity magazines, and armor-piercing bullets.

Keep schools gun-free (with the exception of armed professional law enforcement officials and school-sanctioned activities). The AMA opposes requirements or incentives for teachers to carry weapons.

Support bans on the purchase or possession of guns and ammunition by people younger than 21 years. Twelve states and the District of Columbia have set a minimum age of 21 for all handgun sales, and Dick's Sporting Goods, Kroger, L.L. Bean, and Walmart have recently changed their minimum age for firearm purchases to 21.

Support laws that would require the registration of all firearms, and licensing and safety courses for gun owners.

Oppose federal legislation permitting concealed carry reciprocity across state lines.

Back legislation that would allow relatives of suicidal people or those who have threatened imminent violence to seek court-ordered removal of guns from the home.

Support better training for physicians so they can recognize patients at risk for suicide.

 

"I think there's a constitutional right to own guns, but there's also a right to free speech. And we do accept limits on free speech that endanger other people or create dangerous situations," said Thornquist. However, "I don't think that right to own guns should necessarily be absolute. For instance, you're not allowed to own a howitzer or a tank, so we do already accept certain reasonable limits."

Michael Greene, MD, a delegate from Georgia who spoke on his own behalf to Medscape Medical News, said he is disappointed that the policies did not get referred back. They should be presented when they have the force of clear evidence behind them, he explained.

"We needed to have a good firm foundation of the rationale and data to back up the positions," he said.

Approach Debated

Although the issue is timely, "we haven't defined the problem well enough as to what's causing this. It's not, in my personal opinion, that there are more guns out there. It's that we do a relatively poor job providing access to mental healthcare and early recognition, in some cases, of when a person may have an issue that needs addressing," he said.

Greene, a gun owner, said that gathering more data could help determine specific associations, such as those between gun control and gun violence and between type of weapon and number of deaths.

"I pride myself on making medical decisions based on the evidence. I think we have not collected enough good evidence to determine where we should be focusing our policy on gun violence," he said.

The AMA actions come amid a flurry of legislation drafted across the country in light of recent mass shootings in schools.

For instance, 11 state legislatures have recently proposed arming, or are exploring arming, K–12 school personnel, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The doctors of this country will not stand idly by while the people and children of this country are gunned down in senseless violence.

The minimum-age policy was necessary because, although "federal law limits the purchase of handguns to age 21 and purchase of long guns to age 18 from a licensed firearms dealer, unlicensed persons may sell a long gun to a person of any age and handguns to individuals 18 and older; and federal law and laws in 38 states allow 18- to 20-year-olds to legally possess handguns from unlicensed sellers, such as online retailers and sellers at gun shows," an AMA news release explains.

Some delegates said the policies adopted send a strong message.

"The fact that our new normal is that my 6- and 8-year-olds practice barricading the door or running and hiding behind trees in active shooter drills at school simply breaks my heart and terrifies me as a mother and pediatrician," said Samantha Rosman, MD, a delegate from the American Association of Pediatrics.

"The AMA will continue to study the issue and how to address it most effectively, but the many policies we passed at this meeting will, in the meantime, send a strong message that the doctors of this country will not stand idly by while the people and children of this country are gunned down in senseless violence," Rosman told Medscape Medical News.

Thornquist, Greene, and Rosman have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Medical Association (AMA) 2018 Annual Meeting. Presented June 12, 2018.

Follow Medscape on Twitter @Medscape and Marcia Frellick @mfrellick

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