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Medical societies urge action to reduce gun violence



The leadership of seven national medical and public health societies are once again urging action to reduce firearm-related injuries and death in the United States.

Dr. Robert McLean, president of the American College of Physicians

Dr. Robert McLean

“With nearly 40,000 firearm-related deaths in 2017, the United States has reached a 20-year high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the authors noted in the call to action (Ann Intern Med. 2019 Aug 7. doi: 10.7326/M19-2441).

The recommendations “stem largely from the individual positions previously approved by our organizations and ongoing collaborative discussion among leaders,” wrote the authors, who included leaders of the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association, as well as the American Public Health Association.

“Our organizations support a multifaceted public health approach to prevention of firearm injury and death similar to approaches that have successfully reduced the ill effects of tobacco use, motor vehicle accidents, and unintentional poisoning,” wrote Robert McLean, MD, president of the American College of Physicians, and colleagues. “While we recognize the significant political and philosophical differences about firearm ownership and regulation in the United States, we are committed to reaching out to bridge these differences to improve the health and safety of our patients, their families, and communities, while respecting the U.S. Constitution.”

The organizations specifically call for the following:

  • Comprehensive criminal background checks for all firearm purchases and transfers between individuals, with limited exceptions.
  • Research into the causes and consequences of firearm-related injury and death and the development and implementation of strategies to reduce these events.
  • Extension of federal laws prohibiting access to firearms for domestic abusers to dating partners.
  • The passage of child access prevention laws that hold accountable firearm owners who negligently store firearms under circumstances where minors could or do gain access to them.
  • Improving access to mental health care for all individuals, while not broadly including all individuals with a mental health or substance use disorder in a category of individuals prohibited from purchasing firearms.
  • Enactment of extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws, which allow a judge to temporarily remove firearms from those who might be at imminent risk for using them to harm themselves or others. ERPO laws should be enacted in a manner consistent with due process.
  • Physicians can and must be able to counsel at-risk patients about mitigating firearms-associated risks in the home.
  • High-capacity magazines and firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity should be the subject of special scrutiny and regulation.

For more than 2 decades, the American College of Physicians “has advocated for the urgent need for impactful legislation that would reduce firearms-related injuries and deaths,” ACP officials said in a statement.

“We need to protect our patients, their families, and our communities across the country from needless injuries and deaths; it’s time for the [United States] to put firearms violence prevention at the forefront of the health care conversation,” Dr. McLean said in a statement.“We are committed to working with all stakeholders, and continuing to speak out, to address this public health threat.”

Leaders at the American Academy of Family Physicians concurred.

“We need to come together as a nation on this issue,” AAFP President John Cullen, MD, said in a statement. “Treating firearm injuries as a public health issue is an important first step. We did this for motor vehicle accidents and have seen a significant decrease in injuries. We didn’t try to remove cars, we made them safer ... Both sides of the debate should come together now and work on solutions—including safe storage laws, expanded background checks, research and improved access to mental health services—we can all agree on.”

Additional firearms-related health policy content that has been published in Annals of Internal Medicine is available at:

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