Firearms, violence and hate crimes are public health issues we must address immediately

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A gunman opening fire in a grocery store, a yoga studio, or in a house of worship sounds like a scene from a nightmare — and the latter is eerily reminiscent of one of history’s darkest hours. Unfortunately, this is a reality that has become all too familiar across the U.S. From Pittsburgh, Aurora, Parkland, Orlando, Las Vegas, Newtown and South Carolina, it is clear that firearms violence has become a public health epidemic in America.

As president of the American College of Physicians (ACP) our professional organization represents members who have seen first-hand the devastating impact firearms violence has had on our patients and the communities we serve. The failure to implement meaningful and long-lasting gun control legislation undermines our country’s and our health care system’s foundational values.

{mosads}On Tuesday, Oct. 30, ACP updated a comprehensive set of recommendations to support the public’s health in our policy paper, Reducing Firearm-Related Injuries and Deaths in the U.S. Originally published in 2014, the paper reaffirms our position that firearms violence is a critical threat to the health of our country.

The new recommendations support laws to prohibit persons with a history of domestic violence — including persons subject to restraining orders —from buying and possessing firearms; support extreme risk prevention laws to allow family members to seek an immediate court order to remove guns from a family member who is at risk of using firearms to inflict harm on themselves or others; and support laws to require adults to store guns and ammunition safely and securely.

The paper also reaffirms ACP’s call for a ban on the sale of “assault” weapons and a ban on bump stocks and large-capacity ammunition magazines, with additional guidance to legislators on how to define which weapons should be subject to such a ban.

ACP has been advocating for a shift in the narrative on gun violence for two decades and has recently developed policy recognizing hate crimes as a public health issue. In today’s landscape and in light of the recent tragedy at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which was fueled by anti-Semitism, ACP recommends that physicians address the increase in firearms-related injuries and deaths with legislators and with patients.

pledge in the annals of internal medicine urges physicians to counsel patients on safe firearm behaviors and to make it a priority to take further action when a patient is at risk. These might be difficult conversations to have with patients, but they are critically important to our public health.

While we have broadened the national dialogue on mental health and how it relates to gun violence, more must be done to truly move the needle forward. ACP has long called for increased access to mental health services — particularly for patients who may pose a risk of harming themselves or others. We recommend that all physicians be trained to work with patients who are living with a mental illness and that mental health services be consistently available to patients in need throughout their lives — surely that’s something both sides of the aisle can rally behind.

Ana María López, MD MPH is the president of the American College of Physicians, which is the largest medical specialty organization in the United States.

Tags gun violence Mental health Public health

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