AMA declares gun violence a public health crisis, vows to push Congress for action

June 16, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: Public Health 

This week, the American Medical Association (AMA) responded to the worst mass shooting in the nation's history by declaring gun violence a public health crisis with more than 6,000 deaths already recorded in 2016.

With physician members from across the nation meeting in Chicago, the AMA House of Delegates pledged to actively lobby Congress to overturn legislation that for 20 years has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from researching gun violence.

“Even as America faces a crisis unrivaled in any other developed country, Congress prohibits the CDC from conducting the very research that would help us understand the problems associated with gun violence and determine how to reduce the high rate of firearm-related deaths and injuries,” said AMA Past President Steven J. Stack, M.D. "An epidemiological analysis of gun violence is vital so physicians and other health providers, law enforcement, and society at large may be able to prevent injury, death and other harms to society resulting from firearms."

AMA also voted to expand its existing policy on gun safety to support waiting periods and background checks for all firearm purchasers. The previous policy supported waiting periods and background checks for handgun purchasers only. The vote builds on extensive, longstanding AMA policy on gun safety. 

“The shooting in Orlando is a horrific reminder of the public health crisis of gun violence rippling across the United States. Mass killers have used AR-15s, rifles and handguns and today we strengthened our policy on background checks and waiting periods to cover them all with the goal of keeping lethal weapons out of the hands of dangerous people,” said Dr. Stack.

On Tuesday, the California legislature also voted to establish and fund a firearms violence research institute within the University of California. This bill was strongly supported by the California Medical Association (CMA).

CMA has long advocated for reasonable and responsible gun control legislation that makes our communities and hospitals safer

"Physicians are too often firsthand witnesses to the physical and psychological damage gun violence inflicts on our communities and as a result, uniquely understand the importance of keeping ammunition out of the hands of criminals,” said CMA President Steven E. Larson, M.D., MPH.

As of 2016, there were no federal laws banning semiautomatic assault weapons, military-style .50 caliber rifles, handguns or large-capacity ammunition magazines, which can increase the potential lethality of a given firearm. There was a federal prohibition on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines between 1994 and 2004, but Congress allowed these restrictions to expire and has since refused to address the issue.

In January, President Obama issued a package of executive actions designed to decrease gun violence, notably a measure to require dealers selling firearms at gun shows or online to obtain federal licenses and, in turn, conduct background checks of prospective buyers. He also proposed new funding to hire hundreds more federal law enforcement agents, and budgeting $500 million to expand access to mental health care. Suicides, many by individuals with undiagnosed mental illness, account for about 60 percent of gun deaths.

In Congress, four democratic Senators (Dianne Feinstein of California, Bill Nelson of Florida, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Chuck Schumer of New York) are expected to call for immediate passage of a bill to prevent people on terror watch lists and suspected terrorists from buying firearms or explosives. Federal agents had interviewed the Orlando gunman twice in recent years when he was suspected of terrorism.

Last December, Congressional democrats attempted to pass this legislation but were blocked by republicans, who said the government could mistakenly place innocent people on watch lists.

The California legislature has not been idle on this issue. Yesterday, the California state legislature began hearing legislative proposals for gun control bills that include a ban on assault weapons, reporting procedures for lost and stolen guns, the creation of a database of ammunition owners, placing serial numbers on firearms, funding for gun control research, classifying parts of guns as guns themselves, a ban on buying more than one firearm per month, and expanding who can request a gun violence restraining order. In May the state legislature also passed bills that would tighten gun restrictions in the state.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced last week that his gun control initiative has received over 600,000 signatures and will be included on the ballot in the fall. Newsom’s measure would require ammunition sellers to be licensed like firearms dealers and establish a process to seize guns from people prohibited from owning them because of their criminal records. It also would mandate lost or stolen guns be reported to law enforcement and require the state Justice Department to notify federal authorities when someone is added to the database of prohibited firearm owners.


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