Gun injuries are a public health emergency, nine organizations say

Physicians have been silenced on the safety of gun ownership by laws and lack of new research

Seven medical specialty societies, the American Bar Assn. and the American Public Health Assn. on Monday joined forces to declare gun-related injuries, which annually kill an average of 32,000 Americans and harm nearly twice that number, "a public health crisis" that should be studied and solved "free of political influence or restriction."

The professional societies jointly issued a "call to action," and declared their collective backing for universal background checks, a ban on military-style assault weapons and large capacity magazines, more federal support for gun-injury research, and an end to laws that would punish physicians who discuss the safety of gun ownership with their patients.

They also called for better and more timely care for those with mental illness and substance abuse problems, and urged lawmakers not to stigmatize those patients or discourage them from seeking care in drafting laws to keep guns out of the hands of some.  

In an editorial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine Monday, leaders of the nine professional organizations called for gun regulation that "maximizes safety while being consistent with the 2nd Amendment." 

Citing a 2008 Supreme Court decision and a welter of lower court rulings since then, experts from the American Bar Assn. asserted that none of the measures backed by the joint statement was inconsistent with the right to bear arms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

The latest issue of the Annals also includes a study conducted by researchers in Washington state that found that, compared with the general population, those hospitalized for a firearms-related incident were at far higher risk of going on to be killed, injured or arrested in a gun-related incident.

All told, the medical societies represent more than 500,000 family doctors, emergency physicians, surgeons, pediatricians, psychiatrists and women's health specialists. The Annals commentary urged members to write to their elected representatives in support of action, telling readers, "We have not sufficiently reduced the firearms-related harms our patients suffer. But maybe we can, if we demand the resources and freedom to do so,"

In a model letter addressed "Dear Senator," Annals editor Dr. Darren Taichman wrote, "It does not matter whether we believe that guns kills people or that people kill people with guns. The result is the same: a public health crisis."

In issuing their call to action, the professional societies acknowledged "significant political and philosophical differences about firearm ownership and regulation in the United States." But they likened guns to motor vehicles, tobacco and potentially hazardous household products, noting that when public health research guides advocacy, the result is fewer deaths and injuries from such sources.

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