In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, in which 49 people were killed and 53 wounded early Sunday after a gunman opened fire in an Orlando gay nightclub, many medical professional organizations have issued multiple statements not only expressing condolences for victims and their families, but also calling on Congress to lift its 20-year ban on the CDC conducting research into gun violence.
In a joint statement, leaders from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American College of Physicians (ACP), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) said Sunday’s attacks “highlight gun violence as a grim and increasing public health epidemic that kills approximately 91 Americans every day.”
Altogether, the five organizations represent approximately 426,000 physicians.
“Our organizations and many others have called on Congress to provide the CDC with funding for research into the causes and prevention of gun violence,” read the joint statement. “In addition, we published a joint editorial on violence in the Annals of Internal Medicine. We must take a proactive approach to curb gun violence by addressing firearm safety, violence in the media, mental health and many other issues.”
In addition, the AAFP and other professional groups issued their own statements, many also calling for Congress to clear the way for research into gun violence.
Posting on the academy’s Leader Voices Blog, AAFP President Wanda Filer, MD, MBA, said ending the ban could provide researchers with valuable information that could help protect children from accidental shootings, prevent suicides, analyze the impact of state firearm policies and more.
“If I told you the U.S. government stopped funding research into one of its most pressing public health concerns, you might conclude that the problem had been solved,” Filer wrote. “But that would be incorrect… Every year, more than 33,000 Americans die because of gun violence and more than twice as many are injured. Yet for 2 decades, Congress has restricted the CDC from conducting research related to gun violence.”
That restriction stems, in part, from an amendment to a 1996 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriations bill, which prohibited the CDC from conducting research that would “advocate or promote gun control.” The so-called “Dickey Amendment,” named for former Rep. Jay Dickey, R-AR, who authored the rider, has since remained in every subsequent annual funding bill. In addition, Congress has cut CDC funding for gun research.
These actions, while they do not explicitly prevent gun research, have had a chilling effect on gathering critical data, according to health officials. In addition, leaders from multiple professional medical groups have previously said it has discouraged younger researchers from entering the field.
In April, more than 100 medical professional organizations from across the country penned a joint letter to leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees, calling for an end to the ban. The AMA, one of the authors of the April letter, this week joined the renewed call to fund firearm research, adopting a policy calling gun violence a “public health crisis.”
“With approximately 30,000 men, women and children dying each year at the barrel of a gun in elementary schools, movie theaters, workplaces, houses of worship and on live television, the United States faces a public health crisis of gun violence,” Steven J. Stack, MD, AMA president, said in a press release. “Even as America faces a crisis unrivaled in any other developed country, the 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. 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.”
In the same statement, the AMA reiterated its long-standing support for legislation mandating a waiting period before the purchase of any firearm in the United States, and required background checks for all handgun purchases.
Additionally, the AAFP in a statement voiced support for legislation requiring trigger locks and the storage of guns locked away in the home away from ammunition. The organization also voiced opposition to the private ownership of firearms designed with the ability to quickly fire more than 10 rounds at a time.
“As physicians, we focus on prevention and healing,” read the joint statement from the AAFP, AAP, ACP, ACOG and APA. “Attacks on any American — regardless of sexual orientation, race, religion, gender and ethnicity — are attacks on us all. It is time to prevent this sort of senseless violence and heal all those who have suffered from it. Our organizations will continue to urge decision makers to recognize violence as a public threat and to take action to reduce its devastating effects.”