Physicians Fight Back Against NRA Attack Over Firearms Safety Policy

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ACP leads effort to promote a common-sense approach to gun violence

Dec. 7, 2018 (ACP) – With four words – “Stay in Your Lane” – the National Rifle Association picked a fight with the American College of Physicians and the nation's medical community. Now, under the rallying cry of “This IS Our Lane,” physicians are uniting as never before in a bid to support common-sense gun laws.

ACP is at the forefront. Its updated policy statement on firearms safety and accompanying editorials, published recently in Annals of Internal Medicine, triggered the NRA and brought physician fury to the forefront.

“The kind of visibility that ACP has gotten because of the NRA's decision to attack us is unlike anything I've ever seen,” said Bob Doherty, ACP's senior vice president for governmental affairs and public policy and a 40-year veteran of advocacy for physicians and patients. “We're changing the debate in the United States, partly because of ACP's leadership.”

ACP is deeply thankful to the hundreds of physicians who firmly and bravely responded to the NRA on social media and elsewhere. Heart-wrenching stories of gun violence and horrific images of blood-stained scrubs flowed from emergency physicians, primary care doctors and many more. The hashtags #thisisourlane and #thisismylane went viral.

“I see no one from the @nra next to me in the trauma bay as I have cared for victims of gun violence for the past 25 years,” wrote New York City emergency physician Dr. Marianne Haughey in a tweet. “THAT must be MY lane. COME INTO MY LANE. Tell one mother her child is dead with me, then we can talk.”

As The New York Times reported: “A neurosurgeon in Indiana shared a photo of a bloody bullet she had removed from the brain of a 6-month-old. A trauma surgeon in New Jersey posted a photo of a blue plastic chair she said she sits in when she tells parents that their child has died. An emergency care doctor in Louisville sent a photo of blood covering the floor beneath an operating table.”

In addition, Dr. Judy Melinek, an author and forensic pathologist in San Francisco, responded to the NRA with this: “Do you have any idea how many bullets I pull out of corpses weekly. This isn't just my lane. It's my f—ing highway.” Her tweet alone has been “liked” more than 540,000 times.

The American College of Surgeons, the American College of Cardiology and the American Medical Association all released statements calling for reform. The AMA said it “recognizes that firearm-related violence is a serious public health crisis in the United States.” They released new policies, approved in November by its House of Delegates, that parallel ACP's.

Dr. Christine Laine, editor of Annals of Internal Medicine, stood up to an NRA attack that targeted the journal itself.

Annals of Internal Medicine is not anti-gun; we are anti-bullet holes in people,” she told The New York Times. “And if we are biased, the bias is toward counseling our patients to reduce their risk of firearm injury and toward evidence-based solutions to the public health crisis that firearm injury has become.”

ACP's updated firearms policy paper, which sparked the NRA's attack on physicians, puts forth nine strategies to reduce gun violence and death. They include support for laws that keep guns out of the hands of people who have a history of domestic violence, including those subject to restraining orders, as well as support for laws that allow family members to seek an immediate court order to remove guns from someone at risk of using firearms to harm themselves or others.

The policy also calls for a ban on sales of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines; and as an interim step until such a ban is enacted by Congress and state legislatures, raising the age to purchase either to 21. In addition, it advocates for safe-gun storage laws and opposes legislation that would allow anyone who can carry a concealed weapon in one state to do so in another state.

In an editorial, The Washington Post quoted the policy paper: “The ACP has pressed for the adoption of policies to reduce the number of deaths and injuries related to firearms for more than 20 years and is disheartened by the lack of action to protect the American public.”

The editorial ended with this: “It's time to follow doctors' orders.”

The unprecedented exposure for ACP and its policies “is not something we're celebrating,” ACP's Doherty cautioned. “The attention is good if it helps us get the word out about the need for this country to take strong steps to reduce gun violence. But scores of people are getting injured or killed by guns every day. Blood is being shed in our schools, workplaces, yoga studios, synagogues, churches, and even at a hospital in Chicago where a beloved emergency physician was gunned down along with two others.”

Moving forward deliberately is key, Doherty believes.

“We can't allow this to be a moment where there's a lot of coverage for a few weeks, and then it fades,” he said. “ACP has to be a leader, or the leader, within the physician community on this issue.”

Annals of Internal Medicine has kept the conversation going through a statement that it issued in response to the NRA's challenge:

“We won't be silenced in using what we learn to better care for our patients. Those who seek to silence progress toward finding solutions to the crisis of firearm-related injury are traveling a lane that leads, literally, to a dead end. We're going to stay in our lane and keep moving forward.” The statement was signed by the journal's executive editor, Dr. Darren Taichman; Dr. Sue S. Bornstein, chair of ACP's Health and Public Policy Committee; Dr. Laine, the journal's editor-in-chief.

ACP leaders are already discussing their next steps.

“We'll be exploring the willingness of other physician organizations to engage in collaborative efforts with us to continue to beat the drum toward a common-sense approach to gun violence,” Doherty said.

Joint action may be pending, he said, along with advocacy efforts via social media and on Capitol Hill.

“We want to have a sustained, ongoing conversation with the public and the nation's leaders Doherty said, “and that requires us to build on our momentum and stoke the fire that's been created.”

More Information

The original statement from the NRA is on Twitter

Statements in response include those released by the American College of Surgeons, the American College of Cardiology and the American Medical Association.

The editorial from The Washington Post can be viewed on its website.

ACP's position paper, “Reducing Firearms Injuries and Deaths in the United States, “ is available on the Annals of Internal Medicine website.

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