Advocacy includes backing bills to expand background checks for gun purchases and funding CDC to research firearms violence
Jan. 25, 2019 (ACP) – Two new bills in Congress aimed at firearms violence prevention reflect the American College of Physician's long-standing position on the issue.
Introduced in the House of Representatives in early January, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 aims to shore up loopholes in existing legislation and make it harder for dangerous individuals to get guns. For example, the bill would require that people must submit to background checks in order to buy firearms at gun shows, on the Internet or from classified ads. Current background check legislation exempts such sales.
The bill “would substantially improve the background check system and make important strides in improving public health by keeping guns out of the hands of those at risk of harming themselves or others,” said Dr. Ana Maria López, ACP's president.
Bob Doherty, ACP's senior vice president for governmental affairs and public policy, described the legislation as “a step forward, even if doesn't go all the way to the Senate.”
“The new legislation addresses many of the concerns about the existing background check system,” he said. “We look at the fight over firearms injury prevention as a marathon, not a sprint.”
For instance, Doherty said that beyond what's included in the current bill, ACP also would favor closing other loopholes, such as prohibiting the purchase of firearms by people with a temporary domestic-violence-related restraining order (current law only prohibits sales to persons with permanent restraining orders) and requiring that they surrender existing firearms for the duration of the order. ACP also wants to prohibit sales and ownership of firearms by persons convicted of misdemeanor or felony domestic violence offenses directed at persons outside of their own household; current law only applies to offenses committed against a member of the same household.
Last week the Gun Violence Prevention Research Act of 2019 was introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, this bill would fund the study of firearms violence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 1996, the Dickie Amendment has barred the CDC from doing research to “advocate or promote gun control,” but in 2018, Congress clarified that the amendment does not ban research. However, Congress has declined to provide funding for such research.
As such, the CDC is inhibited from conducting research into the causes of gun violence because it has no money to do so.
“There is no funding stream to support research unless they take support from other research activities—which could be problematic,” Doherty explained. The new bill calls for monies to be allocated for such research in the next fiscal year, he said.
In addition, ACP has partnered with Giffords, a gun violence prevention organization founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head at a rally in 2011 and has become a vocal advocate for firearms safety. The partnership, which includes a number of other medical and public health groups, is advocating for funding CDC to do research on firearms violence.
“Firearms injuries and deaths are a public health crisis in this country, and physicians come face-to-face with this tragedy regularly,” López said. “This is why ACP has long advocated for policies that could prevent these avoidable deaths and injuries.”
“Now is the time to stop prioritizing firearms over patients and the health of the public,” she said. “Now is the time for policymakers to take concrete action to end this epidemic. Now is the time to work together with partners like the Giffords organization and other medical groups to urge Congress to take the critical step of funding research into firearms safety through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
López and Doherty agree that it's also time for ACP members to build on the current
#ThisIsOurLane momentum that began when the National Rifle Association responded to ACP's position paper on firearms violence by telling physicians to “stay in your lane.”
“The backlash emboldened physicians to speak up on the issue in ways I have never seen before,” Doherty said. “This is not a moment, but a movement.”
There's tremendous opportunity to get involved at the state level, he said.
For example, some states have enacted child protection laws that call for guns to be stored safely and separately from ammunition to reduce the risk of accidental shootings. ACP will be developing a resource kit for chapters with information on the status of such legislation in all states, along with sample legislation and other advocacy messaging tips to help members bring such laws to their states.
Members can also advocate even closer to home, Doherty said. Annals of Internal Medicine offers a pledge in which doctors promise to discuss firearms prevention injury with high-risk patients, including those with young children.
“Ask about gun ownership and depending on the response, have a conversation about reducing risks,” he suggested. “Those are the types of conversations that physicians can have, and if these talks persuade one patient to take action, this could be a life saved that doesn't require a piece of legislation.”
To commit to speaking with patients about firearms ownership and safety, click here.