Chapter recently partnered in a memorial to victims of gun violence and participated in a panel discussion on gun violence and potential solutions
Nov 5, 2021 (ACP) – Curbing firearm violence has long been high on the American College of Physicians list of advocacy priorities, and the New York ACP chapter recently participated in a panel discussion with Giffords, a nonprofit organization that aims to end gun violence in America.
The organization is led by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot during a constituent meeting in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011. The panel discussion included medical professionals, advocates and public officials on the frontlines who discussed the scale and scope of the gun violence issue and presented solutions. The panel discussion coincided with a temporary memorial for New York's victims of gun violence. The New York ACP chapter was also a “partner” in the memorial.
“Firearm violence is the epidemic that's continuing to roll along in the background while we are all worried about the COVID-19 pandemic inside of the mother of all public health issues --climate change,” said Dr. Douglas M. DeLong, past chair of the ACP Board of Regents. He represented ACP during the panel discussion with Giffords. “The number of deaths from gun violence continue to go up, not down.”
The statistics about gun violence in the United States are alarming: An average of 100 Americans die from gun violence every single day, and nearly every American will know at least one victim of gun violence in their lifetime, according to statistics from Giffords. Physicians have a central role to play in preventing gun violence, particularly suicide, which makes up the majority of gun-related deaths, DeLong said. In fact, firearm access triples suicide risk, according to statistics from Giffords.
“We have a professional and moral obligation to address this public health issue,” said DeLong.
It is time for physicians to start asking questions about guns in the household, even if it makes them uncomfortable, DeLong said. “Most doctors screen for depression, and if a patient screens positive, it's a good idea to get more granular and ask about guns in the household,” he said.
If a patient has guns at home, ask if they are safely secured and if the ammunition is locked up in a separate safety box. “Couch it like this: ‘I am concerned about your safety and health and that includes the risk of a child being harmed due to a loaded, unlocked weapon,’ or ‘You have symptoms of depression, and you should consider alternative storage of firearms,’” DeLong said.
It is also important for ACP members to push for policies to prevent firearms injuries and deaths in their cities and states, he said. In April 2021, ACP urged all members to help advance legislation that would keep guns away from persons at risk for harming themselves and others, including extreme risk protection orders, child access prevention initiatives and reforms to close loopholes in the background check system that allow many domestic violence offenders to obtain and possess firearms.
Getting involved starts by learning about gun laws and gun violence in the community. “If you are in a rural Western state, you are probably already aware of a lot of issues around guns and gun violence,” DeLong said. If not, ACP makes the next steps seamless with its gun violence advocacy tool kit.
DeLong encourages other chapters to host or participate in events like the Giffords panel discussion in the future.