Weinberger SE, et al. Ann Intern Med. 2015;doi:10.7326/M15-0337.

Taichman DB. Ann Intern Med. 2015; doi:10.7326/M15-0428.

February 23, 2015
2 min read

American physicians call for policy reform on gun laws


Weinberger SE, et al. Ann Intern Med. 2015;doi:10.7326/M15-0337.

Taichman DB. Ann Intern Med. 2015; doi:10.7326/M15-0428.

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Eight health care organizations released a unified call to action regarding gun laws to reduce firearm-related injuries and deaths in the U.S., without interrupting the Second Amendment.

“Many physicians, having witnessed the effects of firearm-related injury and death on their patients’ lives, strongly believe that firearm-related injury and death is a major public health problem,” Steven E. Weinberger, MD, CEO and executive vice president of the American College of Physicians, and colleagues wrote.

Steven E. Weinberger

Executive staff leaders from national health organizations are seeking to integrate the perspectives of medical, public health and legal professionals into gun law policy reform. Among the organizations involved are 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 the American Psychiatric Association in partnership with the American Public Health Association and the American Bar Association.


The groups are calling for the following specific actions:

  • requiring criminal background checks for all firearm purchases or transfers of ownership, not just when purchased at gun stores, as is currently the law including background checks for sales by gun dealers, sales at gun shows and private sales between individuals;
  • eliminating ‘gag laws’ that inhibit physicians from discussing a patient’s gun ownership and allowing physicians to freely provide patients with a nonjudgmental environment to  provide accurate information on the connection of firearms to health care, answer any questions and guide them on firearm behaviors that encourage health and safety;
  • offering improved access to mental health care to identify disorders early on and allowing for effective treatment of both mental and substance abuse disorders, which would limit the consequences of firearm-related injury and death (The committees stated that overall efforts should be geared towards limiting firearm availability to people who may pose a threat to themselves or others, rather than blanketing all persons with any mental or substance abuse disorders.);
  • reporting patients with signs that they could cause harm to themselves or others in a way that protects the patient’s confidentiality and does not discourage them from seeking treatment for mental or substance abuse disorders; and allowing people with suspended firearm privileges, due to a mental or substance abuse disorder, to go through a fair restoration process, which keeps in mind both the individual’s rights and the public’s safety; and
  • restricting civilian access to large-capacity magazines and military-style assault weapons designed to increase rapid and extended killing capacity.

More research needed

The call to action also urges more research regarding the causes and consequences of firearm violence and unintentional injuries, and strategies to reduce firearm-related injuries, with resulting data being made openly available.

Darren B. Taichman

“Our organizations support a public health approach to firearm-related violence and prevention of firearm injuries and deaths. Similar approaches have produced major achievements in the reductions of tobacco use, motor vehicle deaths (seatbelts), and unintentional poison, and can serve as models going forward,” Weinberger and colleagues wrote.

In an accompanying editorial, Darren B. Taichman, MD, PhD, executive deputy editor of Annals of Internal Medicine, advised all healthcare professionals to get in touch with their federal and state government representatives and look at firearm-related injuries as a public health crisis.

“It does not matter whether we believe that guns kill people, or that people kill people with guns — the result is the same: a public health crisis,” said Taichman, who is also associate director of the Pulmonary Vascular Disease Program and adjunct associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. – by Casey Hower

 Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.