A number of national health organizations have called for the introduction of new policies to combat the number of firearm-related injuries and deaths in the US.
In the paper, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, the group make a number of recommendations with the aim of reducing gun-related injuries and deaths. The suggestions would be part of a public health approach similar to those adopted to reduce tobacco use and motor vehicle fatalities.
"Along with our colleagues in law and public health, those of us who represent the nation's physicians realize that there are significant political and philosophical differences about firearm ownership and regulation in the United States," says the American College of Physicians (ACP) CEO, Dr. Steven E. Weinberger.
"However, we strongly support a multifaceted public health approach and will not be dissuaded from advocating for the improved health of our patients and families."
The US has the most privately owned firearms in the world - approximately 300 million. "Although some persons suggest that firearms provide protection, substantial evidence indicates that firearms increase the likelihood of homicide or, even more commonly, suicide," write the authors.
According to background information in the paper, firearms are the second highest cause of death for adults and adolescents in the US, behind motor vehicle crashes. Over 32,000 people die every year in the US as a result of firearm-related activity. The number of nonfatal firearm injuries is more than double this rate.
Another recent study, also published in Annals of Internal Medicine, has also found that people who are hospitalized by firearm-related injuries are at an increased risk of violence-related arrest and further firearm-related injury or death.
"Among hospitalized patients, prior criminality has a stronger association with subsequent violent crime perpetration than a prior diagnosis of mental illness," conclude the researchers.
Dealing with a public health crisis
The paper, entitled "Firearm-Related Injury and Death in the United States: A Call to Action," was written by eight physicians organizations and supported by the American Public Health Association and the American Bar Association - a group of lawyers and law students who wish to raise awareness that the Second Amendment should not be a barrier to policies limiting firearm violence.
Several recommendations are made in the paper, encompassing perspectives from medical, legal and public health backgrounds:
- Criminal background checks should be made for all firearm purchases
- Policies should not restrict the free speech of physicians regarding guns, including the discussion gun ownership with patients
- Sale or ownership of military-style "assault weapons" should be prohibited for private citizens
- Research into the causes and consequences of firearm-related violence and injury should be conducted to inform evidence-based policies
- Access to mental health care should be improved for individuals with mental or substance use disorders, who should not be restricted access to guns limited solely on the basis of having a disorder
- Laws compelling physicians to report patients with mental or substance use disorders should be opposed, as these can stigmatize patients and put them off seeking treatment.
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Darren B. Taichman describes firearm-related injuries and deaths as a "public health crisis." However, while medical and political institutions have come together to fight other crises such as the Ebola epidemic, Dr. Taichman writes that this has yet to happen for firearm injuries:
"Two years ago, we called for physicians to focus on the public health threat of guns. The profession's relative silence was disturbing, but in part explicable by an inability to study the problem. Political forces had effectively banned the Centers for Disease Control [CDC] and other scientific agencies from funding research on gun-related injury and death."
He believes that, so far, health care professionals have not done their job properly and reduced firearm-related harms to patients. "But maybe we can, if we demand the resources and freedom to do so," he suggests.
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study that found gun-related injuries hospitalized around 20 children in the US every day.