Will We Accept the Challenge?

Written by Tobie Smith, MD, MPH, NPA Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce Co-Chair

“Tired of politicians playing politics w/ guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

– Dr. Vivek Murthy, Oct 16, 2012

This tweet sparked a political controversy that nearly derailed the confirmation of Dr. Murthy as the Surgeon General. The National Rifle Association played “politics with guns” and attempted to bully legislators into denying his confirmation, claiming he would use the position as a platform for gun control.
Why shouldn’t he? If the 33,000 U.S. deaths and more than double that in injuries in 2013 attributable to firearms is not a serious public health issue, then what is?
As the physician authors of an editorial in the April 7 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, wrote “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.”
Simply put, when fired at a person, guns are bad for one’s health.
Our medical societies are responding to gun deaths as the health care issue that they are. In February, a coalition of eight national medical organizations, representing most U.S. physicians, including the AAFP, ACP and AAP, united to issue evidence-based policy recommendations and reiterate their commitment to be part of the solution in curtailing gun violence. A call to action was presented to all of our physician colleagues.
Will we accept this challenge?
Will we use our collective voices as daily advocates for our patients’ health and help focus our national gun discussion on the health and safety of our communities? Can we advocate for policies that respect our constitutional rights while preserving the health of our communities?
This is not the first call to action from our medical societies. It just may be the most important, however, as it comes at a time when legislation encroaches on our professional–and ethical–obligation to provide the best treatment to our patients.
While the NRA could not block Dr. Murthy, they are successfully lobbying for silencing physicians. Medical “gag laws,” that bar physicians from discussing gun ownership with patients, already have been enacted in Florida. NRA lobbying has encouraged their introduction in 11 other states. What once had been a routine part of our pediatric injury screening and safety education can now put our medical license in jeopardy.
Will we accept this challenge to advocate for our patients by collectively fighting these legislative attempts to constrain physician- patient conversations about guns or will we acquiesce to the pressures of the gun lobby?
Next week, I and other NPA members will attend the swearing in ceremony of our 19th US Surgeon General. We will be reminded of the challenge he faced in overcoming the political forces working to shape public perception against treating gun violence as a “health care issue.”
As physicians we can be a powerful voice in this discussion, and help shape the polices that can mitigate this threat to our nation’s health.
Will we accept the challenge?

Learn more
NPA Gun Violence Prevention Project 
Upcoming! NPA Gun Violence & Public Health Webinar
Nothing More Basic: 
Best Practices to Promote Safe Gun Storage
Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 9 pm (EST)

  • Michelle Boykins , Senior Director of Communications, National Crime Prevention Council
  • Rebecca Adeskavitz, MPH, Senior Program Manager, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
  • Jennie Lintz, JD, MS, Director, Public Health & Safety, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence

RSVP Here 

Gun Safety & Public Health: Policy Recommendations for a More Secure America 
A white paper from NPA and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence
Who is Dangerous? Gun Laws, Mental Health, Suicides, & Restraining Order (March 2015)
Josh Horwitz, JD, Executive Director, Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence
Shannon Frattaroli, PhD, Associate Professor, The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Gun Policy and Research
Gun Laws, Gag Laws & Domestic Violence (Feb 2015)
Mike McLively, Staff Attorney, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence
Miri Cypers, Senior Policy Associate, Americans for Responsible Solutions