ACP: Some Progress Being Made in Policies to Prevent Firearms-Related Injuries and Deaths

Advocate Masthead

Amid another recent school shooting, ACP finds some encouragement in White House actions, joins coalition to unite the medical community in fighting for change

April 7, 2023 (ACP) — The American College of Physicians is continuing its crucial work to address firearm violence as a public health crisis and advocate for commonsense reform. While good news is hard to find on this front, ACP is pleased by recent White House actions and is proud to join a new coalition that brings the medical community together to fight for change.

Firearm violence recently hit home for Dr. Ryan D. Mire, president of ACP, when three children and three adults were shot to death at a school in Nashville, Tennessee, just 10 minutes from his clinic.

In a statement following the shootings, Mire said the deaths “reinforce for me how close we all are to becoming a victim of gun violence … The rate of injuries and deaths related to firearms and the growing incidence of mass shootings bring to light, once again, the glaring insufficiency of firearm policy in the U.S.”

Although “much more needs to be done,” Mire said, “we have recently begun to make some progress in enacting policies to prevent firearms-related injuries and deaths.”

On March 14, President Biden directed his administration to take a number of actions, including enhancing background checks required before firearm purchases, boosting “red flag” orders designed to keep weapons out of the hands of people at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others and addressing the loss or theft of firearms during shipping. These actions strengthen the policies that were included in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that was passed last summer.

“While we still need additional legislative action from Congress, the executive order gets us closer to universal background checks by ensuring that all background checks currently required by law are conducted before firearm purchases,” said Renee Butkus, ACP director of health policy. “Universal background checks are key to closing legal loopholes that allow prohibited purchases. The executive order attempts to crack down on gun sellers who break the law and ensure that all firearms sellers become compliant with background check requirements.”

ACP has long advocated for policies that could prevent avoidable firearms-related deaths and injuries. In 2018, the Annals of Internal Medicine published “Reducing Firearm Injuries and Deaths in the United States, “an update and expansion of a 2014 ACP position paper.

There is no doubt that firearm violence is a public health crisis, and not just because so many people require medical treatment when they are wounded or killed. According to The Washington Post, an estimated 338,000 American schoolchildren have endured a shooting at their K-12 schools since 1999. “Tragically, these young people are at risk of long-lasting symptoms as a result of these shootings,” said Texas physician Dr. Sue Bornstein, chair of the ACP Board of Regents. “They're among the invisible victims, and they can be plagued by panic attacks, fear and posttraumatic stress disorders for many years.”

A new coalition hopes to make a difference. ACP is one of five sponsoring members of the new Healthcare Coalition for Firearm Injury Prevention along with the American College of Surgeons, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Emergency Physicians and the Council of Medical Specialty Societies. The coalition was formed after a summit of medical organizations was held last fall.

“The sponsoring members have created a formal steering committee, which is responsible for the overall organization of the coalition,” Bornstein said. “The steering committee will set the strategic direction and plan future meetings. The steering committee will develop several workgroups to focus on projects and initiatives to advance firearm injury prevention. The proposed workgroups include medical education, advocacy and policy initiatives, community engagement and violence prevention and communications.”

According to Butkus, there has also been “a promising trend among state lawmakers to direct attention and resources to the daily firearms violence that afflicts our nation's most underserved communities, including through community violence intervention programs, which 12 states and Washington, D.C. , committed significant funding to in 2021. In total, 27 states and D.C. enacted 75 firearms safety laws in 2021.”

But while some recent actions are promising, “ACP is calling on policymakers to do more, including a declaration of gun violence as an epidemic and public health emergency,” Butkus added. “ACP will continue to advocate for commonsense reforms to curb firearms-related injuries and death.”

ACP members can help by utilizing the ACP toolkit that provides guidance on advocacy at the state level. The focus is on child access prevention laws and extreme risk protection orders. The toolkit includes a template letter and guidance on how to promote efforts on social media.

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