Physicians have role in gun control debate, say policy experts

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Public health experts at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research say the current gun policy dialogue needs more physician involvement, according to a new paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Public health experts at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research say the current gun policy dialogue needs more physician involvement, according to a new paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Health care providers-particularly physicians-are well-positioned to have an impact on gun policy debates and are an important source of information for the public as well as a valued constituency for policymakers, they say.

The paper notes that 31,000 people died from gunshot wounds in the United States in 2010, and about 73,000 were shot and survived. Treating wounds caused by guns is an important role for doctors, but they would be better served by increasing their prevention work, authors note.

The report outlines strategies that the authors say could reduce gun violence in private homes as well as on the streets.

• Physicians as clinicians. Most victims of gun violence-61%-die by their own hand, the paper reports. With statistics such as that one, the authors argue that doctors have a great potential for clinical interventions. Making mental health treatments available is key and must include options for removing guns and prohibiting gun purchases for people who desire or would benefit from mental health treatments. The report points to a California law that created a system for clinical providers to collaborate with law enforcement to limit gun access when a person in treatment has made a credible threat to harm himself/herself or others.

• Physicians' role in managing fear. The root of most people’s opinions on guns is fear, according to the paper, whether that is fear from chaos, strangers, or even the government. Doctors are trained to help people cope with their fear of disease and death and could bring that skill set to the gun policy debate, the authors write.

• Physicians as researchers. Nearly 2 decades of silence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were effectively ended in January when President Barack Obama directed the agency to conduct research into the causes and consequences of gun violence. The CDC has been silent on gun violence prevention research for 17 years during a period where the agency was warned by Congress that federal funding could not be used to advocate for gun control. The authors say that, as long as funding is appropriated for the research requested by the president, physician-researchers are expected to develop “robust and impactful” research that will build evidence to support the gun control debate.

• Physicians as leaders. There is a greater need for doctors to talk and write about their interactions with patients and colleagues. “Raised voices” from the physician community and its leadership would go a long way in reframing the debate on gun violence, the authors write.