Top doctors group declares gun deaths a 'public health crisis'

Top doctors group declares gun deaths a 'public health crisis'
© Getty Images

Days after the nation’s deadliest mass shooting, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted for the first time Tuesday to declare gun violence a “public health crisis" and to "actively lobby" to allow federal research on guns.

The near-unanimous vote, though mostly symbolic, is a significant step that will push the powerful doctors group into a fierce political battle with Second Amendment supporters who have long argued that gun-related violence is no different from other violent acts.  

ADVERTISEMENT
It’s the first time the AMA’s policy-making arm has called the epidemic a “public health crisis” — the same language that sparked controversy in 2014 and nearly blocked U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy from his confirmation.

Other doctors groups, including the American College of Physicians and American College of Surgeons, have already declared gun violence a public health crisis. But the topic has been trickier for the AMA, which represents a far more diverse field including all 50 state medical associations.

The AMA said the growing number of gun-related deaths in the U.S. requires a “comprehensive public health response and solution.” It called the nation’s gun crisis “unrivaled in any other developed country.”

The AMA will push to allow federally funded research to study gun violence like any other public health issue. The group will now renew its campaign against the 20-year-old government policy that has effectively banned research on guns — pitting itself against the group behind the provision, the National Rifle Association.

The so-called Dickey amendment, named for former Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), has had a chilling effect on nearly all federally funded gun research, though it does not technically outlaw it. Specifically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is only banned from using federal funding “to advocate or promote gun control.” 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed to repeal the anti-gun research provision last winter during budget talks with GOP leaders, though the fight ultimately fizzled out.

The vote was cast by the group’s governing board during its annual meeting in Chicago, two days after more than 100 people were shot in Orlando. The meeting began on Sunday afternoon — around the time the death toll in Florida was raised to 50 from about 20. Authorities say the shooter, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people before he died in a confrontation with police.

— This story was updated at 12:58 p.m.