Gun Violence Bill Will Pass Committee, House Sponsor Tells AMA

Alicia Ault

February 12, 2019

WASHINGTON — The main sponsor of a House bill designed to ensure that every gun sale in America subjects the purchaser to a background check told assembled members of the American Medical Association (AMA) that it will easily pass a committee vote being held on February 13 — a day shy of the 1-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) said he expects the House Judiciary Committee to approve the bill, HR 8, and that it will be approved by the full House, "within the first 100 days" of the current congressional session.

The legislation already has 232 cosponsors in the House, both Democratic and Republican, said Thompson, who spoke at the AMA's annual National Advocacy Conference on Tuesday.

He partly credited the newly elected crop of Democrats with adding to the momentum created by student activists and physicians who have advocated for solutions to gun violence. "Without your help we would not be where we are today," Thompson told the AMA attendees.


AMA President Barbara McAneny, MD, said that physicians have felt empowered to speak up in part because of the Parkland students. "They are so articulate, and so powerful in their speeches — I think every adult in the country said if these children can give us this truth, we have to listen," McAneny told Medscape Medical News. Doctors took it to heart, and are now saying, "You've got to stop killing our children," she said.

Physicians also became inspired by the National Rifle Association (NRA) assertion — in response to an American College of Physicians paper aimed at reducing gun violence — that doctors had no business talking about guns and should "stay in their lane."

That led to the #ThisISOurLane campaign on Twitter, in which physicians explained — and continue to explain — the myriad ways in which gun violence is very much their concern.

"As your bullets are in our patients, this is our lane," agreed McAneny. "As long as we have to try to sew people back together and treat them in rehab and see them in the emergency department and tell the families that this person just died — it is our lane," she said.

McAneny said stricter background checks are necessary, and that HR 8 "is a good first step."

A Call to "Step Up"

Thompson said the bill will face an uphill battle in the Senate. The AMA will be there to show its support, McAneny said. "We will be telling every Senator that we get a chance to talk to that this is an issue that they need to just step up to the plate," McAneny said.

The AMA has a long history of supporting actions to address gun violence.

AMA Board of Trustees Chairman Jack Resneck Jr, MD, noted that since 1982 the AMA's House of Delegates had passed more than two dozen policies aimed at supporting and expanding research into gun violence, strengthening background checks, and extending waiting periods for purchase, and that last year it had called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

"America's physicians are not interested in infringing on anybody's Second Amendment rights," Resneck said at the meeting. "We simply want solutions that keep guns out of the hands of those seeking to do harm and reduce firearm deaths and firearm injuries."

The NRA has mounted a campaign to defeat HR 8, in part by creating a stand-alone website that claims that so-called universal background checks will not keep criminals from buying guns.

Thompson told AMA attendees not to "fall victim to" such arguments, claiming that background checks stop 170 felons and 50 domestic abusers each day from purchasing from licensed dealers. But they often can go to a firearm show or order guns online or from other unlicensed operations and elude background checks, which is why his bill is necessary, Thompson said.

He also promised that the House will also find a way to restart gun violence research. "This new Congress — the majority — understands how important this is," Thompson said, adding, "We're committed to returning those research dollars," to help determine causes and solutions. He said the fiscal 2020 appropriations bill for the US Department of Health and Human Services would include such research dollars.

McAneny applauded that promise. "Let us study the issue," she said, noting that more research should not be equated with a bid to take guns away. "We studied car accidents, we put in seat belts — we didn't take away cars."

With research, "we can find ways to mitigate some of the violence," McAneny said, adding that it would be especially important to determine how to protect people from firearm-related suicides.

For more news, join us on Facebook and Twitter