Should physicians join the debate over gun control?

Congress will consider several bills addressing gun issues this year

With the newly elected Congress poised to debate legislation over gun control and safety, the editors of leading medical journals are urging physicians to participate in the conversation.

Lawmakers' interest in gun safety has spiked in the aftermath of last month's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 six- and seven-year-old students and six adults dead, and prompted President Obama to pledge he would use "whatever power this office holds" to prevent "more tragedies like this." The tragedy followed a series of high-profile events involving guns, including deadly shootings in Aurora, Colo., Fort Hood, Texas, and Tucson, Ariz.

On Thursday, members of Congress introduced bills addressing gun and ammunition sales—and more bills are expected. Meanwhile, the White House is expected to release a gun plan on Jan. 15. However, Congress has not passed significant gun-related regulations since 2007, USA Today reports.

Responding to the legislative proposals, National Rifle Association spokesperson Andrew Arulanandam said, "This is something we are prepared to address with facts." The gun lobby has indicated that it opposes legislation to limit gun sales. To curb gun violence in schools, it has recommended that the government provide armed guards.

Journals call on doctors to speak up

With a congressional fight looming, the editors of JAMA, the Annals of Internal Medicine, the Archives of Internal Medicine, and JAMA Pediatrics are calling on physicians and researchers to join forces and participate in the debate over gun safety in the United States.

In a JAMA editorial, editors suggested that the United States "might be in a better position to act if medical and public health researchers had continued to study these issues as diligently as some of us did between 1985 and 1997."

However, much gun-related research was defunded in the 1990s, according to the editorial. Meanwhile, legislators in Florida recently passed legislation preventing physicians from discussing guns with patients or patients' guardians. Although a judge has blocked enforcement of the law, similar legislation has been proposed in seven other states.

"While it is reasonable to acknowledge and accept the Supreme Court's recent decision regarding the meaning of the Second Amendment, it is just as important to uphold physicians' First Amendment rights," the JAMA editorial writes.

Writing in an Annals editorial, the journal's top editors said, "Just as physicians worked to safeguard public health by promoting smoking bans in public places, we should draw on similar motivations and strategies to promote sensible, evidence-based laws to decrease the harms associated with gun violence" (Laine et al., Annals of Internal Medicine, 1/1; Kellermann/Rivara, JAMA, 12/21/12; Healy, "Booster Shots," Los Angeles Times, 1/2; Kucinich, USA Today, 1/3).

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