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AMA President Highlights Need to Treat Gun Violence as Public Health Issue

Mary Caffrey
David O. Barbe, MD, MHA, president of the American Medical Association (AMA), made his remarks as private funders are stepping up support for research on gun violence.
Gun violence is a public health crisis, and the nation’s doctors must lead the way in educating Americans about solutions, the president of the nation’s largest physician group said Sunday.

David O. Barbe, MD, MHA, opened the first session of the American Medical Association (AMA) annual meeting in Chicago with a call for members to act on resolutions “that address this devastating crisis of our time.”

Barbe noted that the 2016 AMA meeting began with the shock of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, and members quickly passed a resolution declaring gun violence a public health crisis.

“In the 2 years that have passed, we have been horrified by yet more carnage: in Parkland, in Sutherland Springs, Sante Fe, and Las Vegas,” he said. “And those are just a few of the incidents that made the headlines. On average, gun violence claims the lives of nearly 100 people a day in the United States.”

While large-scale shootings in public settings generate headlines, the rise of guns used in suicides is making news as well. Last week, the CDC released a report showing a 30% increase in suicides in about half of the states since 1999. Every state showed an increase except Nevada. Firearms were the top method, accounting for 40.6% of all deaths and 55.3% of suicides where a prior mental health problem had not been documented.

In his remarks Sunday, Barbe called for the CDC to conduct epidemiological research on gun violence, which he called “the only leading cause of death where such research is not being conducted.”

This year’s omnibus budget bill technically included language to lift the longtime ban on CDC research on gun violence, but without an appropriation, researchers are wary of undertaking projects. CDC veterans fear that members of Congress sympathetic to the National Rifle Association will target other parts of the agency’s budget unless they have funds explicitly set aside to study gun violence. The ban on such work began in 1996 with the Dickey Amendment, which said that no CDC research could be done to advocate for gun control.

Barbe compared the rise of gun violence to other deadly “epidemics.”

“The fact that this problem continues to worsen has spurred a new sense of urgency … even while Congress fails to act,” he said, comparing the fight against gun violence to the AMA’s stands during the AIDS epidemic or its battle with Big Tobacco.

“Have we backed away from our support of universal vaccinations or gains made through the Affordable Care Act because they are controversial? No, we let the science lead us.” In the same way, Barbe said, reducing gun violence requires that physicians address it head on, “scientifically, in an evidence-based fashion, and with the health and safety of our communities, our fellow Americans, and our children as our chief concern.”

Amid the delays at CDC, the private sector is moving forward with research. In May, philanthropists John and Laura Arnold donated $20 million to the RAND Corporation to create the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, which seeks to create objective information for “fact-based” responses. Last fall, Michael Bloomberg vowed to match donations to Everytown for Gun Safety.

 
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