It’s time for doctors to talk about guns

The tragedy in Newtown has abruptly prompted the medical profession to recommit itself to action in this area.

As physicians, we witness the myriad effects of gun violence every day. While our professional roles often require a measure of clinical detachment in the office, we carry these personal, heartbreaking stories home as well, grieving with our patients.

As physicians, we, too, have been struck by the horror of the Newtown shooting and know that we are uniquely positioned through our work to help prevent a great deal of harm and suffering.

With this power comes responsibility: to ask about gun ownership and safety as part of a thorough social history; to provide referral and counseling as needed; and to push for stronger preventive laws.

Gun violence is a public health issue, and the medical profession is focused on some very disturbing data.

According to a 2012 report from the Children’s Defense Fund, the number of preschoolers killed by guns in 2008 and in 2009 was nearly double the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty during the same period. These 5,740 children would have filled 229 public school classrooms of 25 students each.

During this same period, countless adults have died as a result of shootings, and thousands others have been physically and psychologically traumatized by gun violence in their families and communities. Tragically, mass shootings are but one component of a gun violence epidemic in this country. Few victims attract national headlines.

In the wake of the Newtown massacre, the National Physicians Alliance and its active network in Connecticut are calling for stronger gun laws as a matter of public health. Specifically, we would like to see lawmakers take the following swift and serious action on this front:

  • Enact a comprehensive state and federal ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines;
  • Close the gun-show loopholes;
  • Strengthen universal background checks for all gun transfers;
  • Work toward an evidence-based approach to gun violence prevention, which includes robust funding for ongoing epidemiological research in this area.

With deep condolences to the people of Newtown and to all victims of gun violence, the National Physicians Alliance calls on lawmakers to swiftly ban America’s most lethal weapons and ammunition from the marketplace and to substantively review and improve all laws that impact the legal sale and purchase of guns.

On behalf of our patients and public health, we are committed to advancing these goals.

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