Leading physician groups advocate for comprehensive criminal background checks, more research, discussion of safe gun ownership with patients
Sept. 6, 2019 (ACP) – Calling for common-sense changes, the American College of Physicians and six other organizations representing America's frontline physicians are redoubling their efforts to reduce firearm-related injuries and death.
In a new policy statement, ACP, the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, and American Public Health Association outline critical steps that must be taken to curb gun violence including closing gun-sale loopholes and keeping magazine-style weapons off the streets.
The paper was published in Annals of Internal Medicine days after the recent shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in which 31 people were killed and dozens more were injured. “Unfortunately, the new paper is timely since we continue to have mass shootings in our country,” said ACP President Dr. Robert McLean.
For starters, the organizations are calling for comprehensive criminal background checks for all firearm purchases including those that take place at dealers, shows and private sales. “Forty percent of firearm transfers take place through means other than a licensed gun dealer,” McLean said. As it stands, these purchases are exempt from background checks. “These loopholes need to be closed,” he added.
In addition, more research is needed to make firearm ownership as safe as possible. Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now allowed to research the causes and consequences of gun violence, there is no direct funding available to do so. “We feel that there needs to be research into what works and what doesn't in terms of reducing firearm mortality,” McLean said.
The organizations also want to expand federal laws to close loopholes in the background check system that only restrict firearm purchases by individuals who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or have protective orders against them if they are a current or former spouse; parent or guardian; or have a child with the victim. Currently, the law does not require reporting to National Instant Criminal Background Check System for dating partners, stalkers, or individuals who commit violence against another family member.
Safe gun storage is also addressed in the new paper. “Guns should be locked away from children, people with dementia or those at risk for suicide,” McLean said. Also key is the enactment of extreme risk protection order laws that would allow families and law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from individuals at imminent risk for using them to harm themselves or others. Some states do have such laws in place, while others are considering them.
In the new paper, the seven organizations also call for “special scrutiny and special regulation” of magazine-style assault weapons. “No one is talking about banning guns used for hunting or personal protection. We are calling for addressing high-capacity magazines and firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity, in order to reduce casualties,” McLean said. “I think many gun owners would agree with these types of common-sense approaches.”
The organizations also call for physicians to be allowed and encouraged to discuss safe gun ownership with all patients. These conversations should be kept confidential. “There are non-confrontational ways to bring this topic up that start with letting patients know this is something you discuss with every patient,” McLean said. “In this day and age, a lot of people have firearms for hunting or personal protection, so I ask all patients if they own a gun. If they do, I ask how they store it and if it is loaded.” These questions lead to discussion about what precautions should be taken.
McLean is optimistic that a bill with some of these measures will be up for a vote in the Senate in the near future. “It is tremendously frustrating that these common-sense gun laws haven't passed legislatively. We must put this on the fast track,” he said. “The public pressure is so great. The movement's getting bigger, and there may even be enough votes to get some of these measures passed in the Senate.”
The policy statement “Firearm-Related Injury and Death in the United States: A Call to Action From the Nation's Leading Physician and Public Health Professional Organizations” is available on the Annals of Internal Medicine website.