Physician and attorney lobby groups call for more background checks, gun restrictions

Seven major medical organizations as well as the American Bar Association on Monday made a call to address gun violence as a public health issue, to which they proposed a number of gun control recommendations as a cure.

The move came in the form of a statement posted on the official website of the Annals of Internal Medicine backed up by an editorial by the publication, which offer universal background checks, elimination of physician “gag laws” addressing gun ownership and restricting the manufacture and sale of so-called assault weapons and large-capacity magazines for civilian use as a fix for the nation’s gun violence.

“Across the United States, physicians have first-hand experience with the effects of firearm-related injuries and deaths and the impact of such events on the lives of their patients. Many physicians and other health professionals recognize that this is not just a criminal violence issue but also a major public health problem,” reads the statement in part.

“Because of this, we, the executive staff leadership of 7 physician professional societies (whose members include most U.S. physicians), renew our organizations’ call for policies to reduce the rate of firearm injuries and deaths in the United States and reiterate our commitment to be a part of the solution in mitigating these events,” the statement continues.

The call, backed by the leadership of the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons and American Psychiatric Association, was joined by the attorney lobby American Bar Association.

As outlined in their plan of treatment for gun violence, the first dose of gun control medicine would be to expand mandatory background checks to include private gun sales.

Backing up this plea, the statement’s authors cite that, “40 percent of firearm transfers take place through means other than a licensed dealer; as a result, an estimated 6.6 million firearms are sold annually with no background checks.”

However, this stale figure often pops up in rhetoric on gun violence in the country and has been widely debunked. Based on a 1994 telephone survey conducted just as implementation of the FBIs NICS system and requirements for background checks for sales through federal firearms license holders was coming into effect, its continued quotation was given two Pinocchios by fact checkers from the Washington Post two years ago. Four Pinnoccios would denote a completely inaccurate statement, by the Post’s rating standard.

Colorado’s enhanced background check law, passed in 2013 and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), extensively used the “40 percent” model for the guideline of how many new reviews would have to be conducted by state police. This gave heartburn to lawmakers who pushed for the law when figures later found the number of checks only increased by just 7 percent.

The next treatment offered up by the medical lobby groups is to bring back a new and improved version of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban that regulated semi-automatic firearms by their cosmetic features as well as magazine capacity.

Although the statement’s authors concede that evidence to document the effectiveness of the ban is largely illusory, it doesn’t stop them from concluding, “our organizations believe that a common-sense approach compels restrictions for civilian use on the manufacture and sale of large-capacity magazines and firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity. It seems that such restrictions could only reduce the risk for casualties associated with mass shootings.”

Also on the prescription pad to address gun violence as a health issue are steps that would implement gun violence restraining orders on a larger scale, step up reporting of those with mental health issues federal authorities by states, and provide funding for the Centers for Disease Control and others to conduct “robust research” into guns as part of a health issue.

Finally, the groups call for a repeal of laws that protect patients from answering questions posed by healthcare workers on their gun ownership and accessibility.

This last issue has been a sticking point with medical lobby groups who took Florida to federal court over that state’s 2011 Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act that discouraged health care workers from asking patients questions about firearms that were not directly relevant to medical care or safety. That case, Wollschlaeger v. Florida, better known as the “Docs vs. Glocks” suit, saw the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit last summer find that law a “valid regulation of professional conduct that has only incidental effect on physicians’ speech.”

The subject of gun violence as a health care issue came to a head last year when the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nomination for surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, by a vote of 51-43. Murthy’s confirmation has stalled for nearly a year after Dr. Murthy’s political activism on the subject of gun control issues earned him fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers and gun rights advocates.

“Guns are, first and foremost, not a health care issue, but a Constitutional issue,” wrote Vik Khanna of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership in an op-ed for concerning Murthy. “Every conversation about this clearly articulated right must happen in this framework. Lots of things get labeled health care issues, but there isn’t another one that is actually articulated in the document that is the nation’s legal foundation.”

Khanna pointed out that nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in the U.S. are the result of suicide, while homicide rates, plunging steadily in recent generations, have dropped more than half since 1992.

Those inside the firearms industry panned Monday’s call to action.

“A supposed public health rationale for more gun control is nothing new,” Michael Bazinet, the director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation told Tuesday. “As Dr. Tim Wheeler has pointed out, this misguided thinking goes back to the late 1980s, if not further.”

“Putting the emphasis on guns and not their criminal misuse remains the wrong approach, even if it is appealing to medical professionals and mainstream media reporters who have little experience with firearms or respect for the tens of millions of law-abiding, responsible American gun owners.  Doctors should concentrate on genuine public health issues and there are plenty of those,” Bazinet said.

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