Doctors aren't the most obvious choice to implement gun-control measures, but in January President Obama addressed them as part of a comprehensive plan to manage gun violence.
The president’s executive orders, unveiled just one month after the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., encouraged doctors to talk with patients about gun safety and clarified that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit physicians from reaching out to the authorities if a patient threatens violence. The president also ordered that federal research on gun violence resume, asking for involvement from the secretary of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“As physicians, we know that gun-related injuries and deaths are a significant public health threat,” said Jeremy A. Lazarus, M.D., president of the American Medical Association (AMA). “The AMA hopes the national conversation about both gun laws and mental health care will lead to meaningful action that will help prevent future acts of gun violence, including many that occur in the home.”
While we don't tend to think of doctors as participants in gun-control actions, they have front-line access to troubled patients.
“As doctors and other health professionals who see far too many people injured and killed by gun violence, we applaud President Obama’s gun violence prevention plan,” said Dr. Alice Chen, executive director of Doctors for America, an organization that supports healthcare reform. “This is an important first step in addressing this public health crisis that kills or injures 100,000 Americans every year.”
The Scope of the Problem
New York was the first state to pass stricter gun laws this year, and the state now mandates that therapists, doctors, nurses and social workers tell government authorities if they believe a patient is likely to harm himself or others, which could lead to revoking the patient's gun permit and seizing any firearms he or she owns.
While many experts praise this legislation and the President's orders, questions remain. When does a patient’s threat of violence become credible? Will doctors have new liability risks if they don’t report a patient who becomes violent? How can lawmakers balance the rights of responsible gun owners with the need to keep guns out of the hands of violent individuals?
What is certain is that the number of gun-related deaths in the United States is sky-high. Gun violence claims 31,000 U.S. lives each year, and the rate of firearms homicides in America is 20 times higher than it is in other economically advanced nations.
Additionally, new research has shown that suicides by active U.S. service members exceeded the number of combat deaths in 2012, and that about 60 percent of military suicides involve a firearm.
No single issue has led to the increase in suicides, but the statistics reflect a growing problem across the nation, according to Robert J. Ursano, M.D., director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress and chair of the Dept. of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.
Americans Support Gun Control Measures
A majority of Americans support policies to reduce gun violence, according to a new survey from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which included input from gun owners and non-gun owners alike.
"Not only are gun owners and non-gun-owners very much aligned in their support for proposals to strengthen U.S. gun laws, but the majority of NRA members are also in favor of many of these policies," said study co-author Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
The national survey conducted in January 2013 asked about many proposed policies, including requiring universal background checks for all gun sales, banning the sale of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons, and prohibiting high-risk individuals from owning guns. The survey also found that Americans support restricting gun access for people with mental illnesses.