Reducing Firearm-Related Deaths: A Public Safety Issue

Recently, the ACP released its updated position paper on gun-related violence. In the 19 years since ACP first stated its position on this topic, little progress has been made and the number of high-profile, mass shootings has pushed this into our nation’s consciousness. While these tragedies grab the headlines, the epidemic is much more far reaching, with an average of nearly 88 deaths every day – this included homicides, suicides and accidents. Regardless of politics, our duty to the public’s health mandates that we “speak out on prevention of firearm-related injuries and deaths, just as physicians have spoken out on other public health issues” [Position Paper, item #2]. It is difficult to argue with the evidence that having a firearm in the home is a risk factor for death and injury; this risk is magnified when the household contains adolescents or children, people with mental illness, or those with alcohol or substance abuse. Most internists, in a 2013 survey, reported having a patient injured or killed by a gun. Counseling by physicians has been demonstrated to make a difference in safe gun storage or removal from the home.

The ACP Policy Paper not only states the position and provides the rationale in a comprehensive manner, it also summarizes existing gun laws. As is their practice, they relied on available evidence to guide their position. I encourage you to read the policy paper. For those interested, other physician organizations have taken a strong position on Gun Violence Prevention, in particular the National Physicians Alliance .

The NRA response was predictable, and you will repeatedly hear their reference to a reduction in gun-related homicides since the 1990’s – and that is true. But it does not diminish the importance of firearm safety as a public health issue. I would also refer you to a report by a coalition of US Mayors on gun violence; the visuals showing years of life lost due to firearm-related deaths versus other causes of death (heart disease, cancer, etc) and the funding for research allotted to these causes is striking. Also, the graphic of firearm deaths versus population in economically similar countries is also dramatic.

You can also get more insight into the ACP Position Paper on Reducing Firearm-Related Injuries and Deaths in the United States from Bob Doherty, ACP’s Senior Vice President for Government Affairs and Public Policy, in the ACP Advocate Blog (see his April 22 entry).

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