Firearm-Related Injury and Death in the United States: A Call to Action From the Nation’s Leading Physician and Public Health Professional Organizations; Politics and Solutions!

rifles364I have been so upset with the recent mass shootings and the lack of action to start the real discussion and solutions I thought that I would dedicate a few posts to this subject. The President and Congress had better get something done because the voters are pretty sick and tired of inaction and the GOP being afraid of the NRA. Get over it and do the right thing and come up solutions and more important, stop making it political!!!

Robert McLean, Patricia Harris, John Cullen, etc. of the AMA noted that shortly after the November publication of the American College of Physicians’ policy position paper on reducing firearm injury and death, the National Rifle Association tweeted:

Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.

Within hours, thousands of physicians responded, many using the hashtags #ThisIsOurLane and #ThisIsMyLane, and shared the many reasons why firearm injury and death is most certainly in our lane. Across the United States, physicians have daily, firsthand experience with the devastating consequences of firearm-related injury, disability, and death. We witness the impact of these events not only on our patients, but also on their families and communities. As physicians, we have a special responsibility and obligation to our patients to speak out on prevention of firearm-related injuries and deaths, just as we have spoken out on other critical public health issues. As a country, we must all work together to develop practical solutions to prevent injuries and save lives.

In 2015, several of our organizations joined the American Bar Association in a call to action to address firearm injury as a public health threat. This effort was subsequently endorsed by 52 organizations representing clinicians, consumers, families of firearm injury victims, researchers, public health professionals, and other health advocates. Four years later, firearm-related injury remains a problem of epidemic proportions in the United States, demanding immediate and sustained intervention. Since the 2015 call to action, there have been 18 firearm-related mass murders with 4 or more deaths in the United States, claiming a total of 288 lives and injuring 703 more.

With nearly 40 000 firearm-related deaths in 2017, the United States has reached a 20-year high according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We, the leadership of 6 of the nation’s largest physician professional societies, whose memberships include 731 000 U.S. physicians, reiterate our commitment to finding solutions and call for policies to reduce firearm injuries and deaths. The authors represent the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association. The American Public Health Association, which is committed to improving the health of the population, joins these 6 physician organizations to articulate the principles and recommendations summarized herein. These recommendations stem largely from the individual positions previously approved by our organizations and ongoing collaborative discussion among our leaders.


In 2017, a total of 39 773 people died in the United States as a result of firearm-related injury—23 854 (59.98%) were suicides, 14 542 (36.56%) were homicides, 553 (1.39%) were the result of legal intervention, 486 (1.22%) were subsequent to unintentional discharge of a firearm, and 338 (0.85%) were of undetermined origin. The population-adjusted rates of these deaths are among the highest worldwide and are by far the highest among high-income countries. Firearm-related deaths now exceed motor vehicle–related deaths in the United States. Further, estimates show that the number of nonfatal firearm injuries treated in emergency departments is almost double the number of deaths. Firearm-related injury and death also present substantial economic costs to our nation, with total societal cost estimated to be $229 billion in 2015.

While mass shootings account for a small proportion of the nearly 109 firearm-related deaths that occur daily in the United States, the escalating frequency of mass shootings and their toll on individuals, families, communities, and society make them a hot spot in this public health crisis. Mass shootings create a sense of vulnerability for everyone, that nowhere—no place of worship, no school, no store, no home, no public gathering place, no place of employment—is safe from becoming the venue of a mass shooting. Mass shootings have mental health consequences not only for victims, but for all in affected communities, including emergency responders. Studies also show that mass shootings are associated with increased fear and decreased perceptions of safety in indirectly exposed populations. Preventing the toll of mass firearm violence on the well-being of people in U.S. cities and towns demands the full resources of our health care community and our governments.

Our organizations support a multifaceted public health approach to prevention of firearm injury and death similar to approaches that have successfully reduced the ill effects of tobacco use, motor vehicle accidents, and unintentional poisoning. While we recognize the significant political and philosophical differences about firearm ownership and regulation in the United States, we are committed to reaching out to bridge these differences to improve the health and safety of our patients, their families, and communities, while respecting the U.S. Constitution.

A public health approach will enable the United States to address culture, firearm safety, and reasonable regulation consistent with the U.S. Constitution. Efforts to reduce firearm-related injury and death should focus on identifying individuals at heightened risk for violent acts against themselves or others. All health professionals should be trained to assess and respond to those individuals who may be at heightened risk of harming themselves or others.

Screening, diagnosis, and access to treatment for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders is critical, along with efforts to reduce the stigma of seeking this mental health care. While most individuals with mental health disorders do not pose a risk for harm to themselves or others, improved identification and access to care for persons with mental health disorders may reduce the risk for suicide and violence involving firearms for persons with tendencies toward those behaviors.

In February 2019, 44 major medical and injury prevention organizations and the American Bar Association participated in a Medical Summit on Firearm Injury Prevention. This meeting focused on building consensus on the public health approach to this issue, highlighting the need for research, and developing injury prevention initiatives that the medical community could implement. Here we highlight specific policy recommendations that our 7 organizations believe can reduce firearm-related injury and death in the United States.

Background Checks for Firearm Purchases

Comprehensive criminal background checks for all firearm purchases, including sales by gun dealers, sales at gun shows, private sales, and transfers between individuals with limited exceptions should be required.

Current federal laws require background checks for purchases from retail firearm sellers (Federal Firearms License [FFL] holders); however, purchases from private sellers and transfer of firearms between private individuals do not require background checks. Approximately 40% of firearm transfers take place through means other than a licensed dealer; as a result, an estimated 6.6 million firearms are sold or transferred annually with no background checks. This loophole must be closed. In 2017, of the 25 million individuals who submitted to a background check to purchase or transfer possession of a firearm, 103 985 were prohibited purchasers and were blocked from making a purchase. While it is clear that background checks help to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals at risk of using them to harm themselves or others, the only way to ensure that all prohibited purchasers are prevented from legally acquiring firearms is to make background checks a universal requirement for all firearm purchases or transfers of ownership.

Need for Research on Firearm Injury and Death

Research to understand health-related conditions underpins the modern practice of medicine. In brief, medical research saves lives and improves health. Yet, despite bipartisan agreement that there are no prohibitions on the CDC’s ability to fund such research, research that would inform efforts to reduce firearm-related injury and death has atrophied over the last 2 decades. Consequently, we lack high-quality nationwide data on the incidence and severity of nonfatal firearm injuries. It is critical that the United States adequately fund research to help us understand the causes and effects of intentional and unintentional firearm-related injury and death in order to develop evidence-based interventions and make firearm ownership as safe as possible. Research should be nonpartisan and free of data restrictions to enable robust studies that identify robust solutions. Many of our organizations have affiliated with the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), a nonprofit organization of health care professionals and researchers working to provide private funding for research related to firearm injury and its prevention. Both private and public funding are key to building a powerful evidence base on this important issue. Research for firearm injury and its prevention should be federally funded at a level commensurate with its health burden without restriction. To move from atrophy to strength requires not just allowing research, but also naming, appropriating, and directing funding for it and for the establishment of comprehensive data collection platforms to document the epidemiology of this growing public health crisis.

Intimate Partner Violence

Currently, federal laws prohibiting domestic abusers from accessing firearms do not apply to dating partners, even though almost half of intimate partner cases involved current dating partners. Federal law restricts firearm purchases by individuals who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or have protective orders against them if they are a current or former spouse; a parent or guardian of the victim; a current or former cohabitant with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian; are similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim; or have a child with the victim. It does not apply to dating partners, stalkers, or individuals who commit violence against another family member. This loophole in the background check system must be closed.

Safe Storage of Firearms

Keeping a firearm locked, keeping it unloaded, storing ammunition locked, and storing it in a separate location have all been associated with a protective effect. A 2018 study found that an estimated 4.6 million U.S. children are living in homes with at least 1 loaded and unlocked firearm. A large number of unintentional firearm fatalities occurred in states where firearm owners were more likely to store their firearms loaded, with the greatest risk in states where loaded firearms were more likely to be stored unlocked. Therefore, our organizations support child access prevention laws that hold accountable firearm owners who negligently store firearms under circumstances where minors could or do gain access to them. These laws are associated with a reduction of suicides and unintentional firearm injuries and fatalities among children.

Mental Health

The great majority of those with a mental illness or substance use disorder are not violent. However, screening, access, and treatment for mental health disorders play a critical role in reducing risk for self-harm and interpersonal violence. This is particularly of concern for adolescents, who are at high risk for suicide as a consequence of their often impulsive behavior. Access to mental health care is critical for all individuals who have a mental health or substance use disorder. This must include early identification, intervention, and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, including appropriate follow-up. Those who receive adequate treatment from health professionals are less likely to commit acts of violence and individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence. Early identification, intervention, and access to treatment may reduce the risk for suicide and violence involving firearms for persons with tendencies toward those behaviors.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Several states have enacted ERPO or ERPO-style laws, and numerous other states are considering them. We support the enactment of these laws as they enable family members and law enforcement agencies to intervene when there are warning signs that an individual is experiencing a temporary crisis that poses an imminent risk to themselves or others while providing due process protections.

Physician Counseling of Patients and “Gag Laws”

Confidential conversations about firearm safety can occur during regular examinations when physicians have the opportunity to educate their patients and answer questions. Such conversations about mitigating health risks are a natural part of the patient–physician relationship. Because of this, our organizations oppose state and federal mandates that interfere with physicians’ right to free speech and the patient–physician relationship, including laws that forbid physicians from discussing a patient’s firearm ownership. Patient education using a public health approach will be required to lower the incidence of firearm injury in the United States. Our organizations are working on programs and strategies that engage firearm owners in devising scientifically sound and culturally competent patient counseling that clinicians can apply broadly.

In the privacy of an examination room, physicians can intervene with patients who are at risk of injuring themselves or others due to firearm access. They can also provide factual information about firearms relevant to their health and the health of their loved ones, answer questions, and advise them on the best course of action to promote health and safety. Providing anticipatory guidance on preventing injuries is something physicians do every day, and it is no different for firearms than for other injury prevention topics. To do so, physicians must be allowed to speak freely to their patients without fear of liability or penalty. They must also be able to document these conversations in the medical record just as they are able and often required to do with other discussions of behaviors that can affect health.

Firearms With Features Designed to Increase Their Rapid and Extended Killing Capacity

The need for reasonable laws and regulations compliant with the Second Amendment regarding high-capacity magazine–fed weapons that facilitate a rapid rate of fire is a point of active debate. Although handguns are the most common type of firearm implicated in firearm-related injury and death, the use of firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity during mass violence is common. As such, these weapons systems should be the subject of special scrutiny and special regulation. There are various strategies to consider, and our organizations look forward to a greater engagement and partnership with responsible firearm owners to determine how best to achieve this goal.


Physicians are on the front lines of caring for patients affected by intentional or unintentional firearm-related injury. We care for those who experience a lifetime of physical and mental disability related to firearm injury and provide support for families affected by firearm-related injury and death. Physicians are the ones who inform families when their loved ones die as a result of firearm-related injury. Firearm violence directly impacts physicians, their colleagues, and their families. In a recent survey of trauma surgeons, one third of respondents had themselves been injured or had a family member or close friend(s) injured or killed by a firearm. As with other public health crises, firearm-related injury and death are preventable. The medical profession has an obligation to advocate for changes to reduce the burden of firearm-related injuries and death on our patients, their families, our communities, our colleagues, and our society. Our organizations are committed to working with all stakeholders to identify reasonable, evidence-based solutions to stem firearm-related injury and death and will continue to speak out on the need to address the public health threat of firearms.

Understanding gun violence and mass shootings

Columbia University studies showed that public mass shootings, once a rare event, now occur with shocking frequency in the United States. According to the Washington Post, four or more people are killed in this horrific manner every 47 days. The most recent mass shootings, in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, occurred less than a day apart and resulted in the loss of 31 lives.

With each fresh assault, politicians and the public have become more firmly entrenched in their beliefs about the root causes of mass shootings and about possible solutions, from more restrictive gun control laws to better mental health care.

Researchers across Columbia University’s campuses have put these theories to the test in an effort to identify effective strategies for preventing mass shootings and other forms of gun violence.

Mental Illness

Mental illness has long been suspected as a primary cause of gun violence and mass shootings in particular. But only 3% to 5% of violent events are attributable to mental illness, writes Paul Appelbaum, MD, director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, in an opinion article in JAMA Psychiatry. “Much of the increased risk [of violence] in people with mental disorders is attributable to other variables rather than to the disorders themselves. Substance abuse, for example, accounts for a large proportion of the incremental risk.”

Further, Appelbaum writes, “compilations of incidents of mass shootings suggest that people with severe mental disorders may be overrepresented among the perpetrators, but given the possibility of bias in the nonsystematic collection of such data, firm conclusions are impossible at this point.”

Video Games

With little funding to study gun violence, “we tend to fall back on conclusions unsupported by evidence,” says Sonali Rajan, EdD, assistant professor of health education at Columbia University Teachers College in an interview published on the school’s website.

In a study published in PLOS ONE, Rajan and colleagues from NYU Langone found no association between video games and other types of screen time and gun ownership among teens. The researchers analyzed data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System—which surveyed tens of thousands of teens about 55 different behaviors over a period of 10 years—to identify factors associated with carrying a firearm. “Among the 5% to 10% of American teens who report regularly carrying a firearm, there is a much stronger association with substance use, engagement in physical fighting, and exposure to sexual violence than with any poor mental health indicator,” explains Rajan.

Gun Laws

States with more permissive gun laws and greater ownership of firearms had higher rates of mass shootings than states with more restrictions on gun ownership, according to a recent study by Columbia researchers in the British Medical Journal. “Our analyses reveal that U.S. gun laws have become more permissive in past decades, and the divide between permissive states and those with more stringent laws seems to be widening in concert with the growing tragedy of mass shootings in the U.S.,” says senior author Charles Branas, Ph.D., chair of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, in an article on the school’s website.

“What happened in Las Vegas saddens me deeply,” Branas says in a previous interview for the Mailman School website. “But this is only the tip of a much larger gun-violence iceberg in the U.S. On the same day, hundreds more people across the U.S. were shot, adding up to somewhere around 100,000 shootings a year.

“We need to think beyond simply guns and people, and start thinking about the environment that is promoting these shootings in the first place,” writes Branas, whose research also has focused on transforming abandoned housing and other signs of urban and rural blight to improve community health and safety.

In other countries, the implementation of laws restricting the purchase of and access to guns in other countries has also been associated with reductions in gun-related deaths, according to a study from researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “While the research did not conclusively prove that restrictions, or relaxation of laws, reduce gun deaths, the results indicate that gun violence tended to decline after countries passed new restrictions on gun purchasing and ownership,” says co-author Sandro Galea, Ph.D., in an interview for the school’s website.


Recent suicides among survivors of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Parkland High School show that the effects of such violent events are long-lasting and entrenched.

“The public may be affected [by mass shootings] even if they were not in immediate proximity, because the media reifies the effects of a mass violent incident,” says Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, in a recent video interview for Medscape.

For survivors of violent events, “reminders such as anniversaries can prolong complicated grief or even reactive grief and trauma,” writes Kathleen Pike, Ph.D., director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University, in an article published on the center’s website. “Community supports matter not only in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events but also for individuals who continue to suffer over time.”

GOP Waits to See if Trump Will Protect It From the NRA Before Moving on Gun Laws

Sam Brodey, Asawin Suebsaeng and Jackie Kucinich reported that just over a week since mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Senate Republicans are waiting to see if President Trump walks away from the issue again or forces their hand before trying to do anything about potentially expanding background checks for gun purchases.

He’s walked away before. Following the Parkland school massacre last year, the president promised that he was “going to be very strong on background checks,” only to retreat after holding private meetings with National Rifle Association officials at the White House. The NRA, a key ally of Trump’s, has spent big money lobbying against background-checks expansion legislation, and last week reminded him of its staunch opposition.

After the latest shootings, Trump told reporters that there is great “appetite” on the Hill to finally get something done on background checks but his GOP allies in the Senate are holding off, unwilling to burn political capital with the gun lobby and conservative-base voters on the issue if Trump isn’t going to burn some of his.

However, the president’s prior inaction, and the media coverage he incurred for it, may force him to make at least a slightly harder run at background checks this time around, even if only in his messaging and bluster. Two people who’ve spoken to the president in recent days say that he has referenced, during conversations about how he could possibly bend the NRA to his will in this case, his annoyance at media coverage of his post-Parkland about-face that suggested he was all talk and no action on the issue, and easily controlled by the NRA. One of the sources noted that Trump’s aversion to being seen as “controlled” by anyone or any organization makes it much more likely that the president will dwell on the issue for longer than he did last year.

Trump’s influence could well make or break legislation, since Republicans are unlikely to support anything without his blessing but will be just as hesitant to immediately reject a bill he puts his full support behind.

“Many Hill Republicans are waiting to see what Trump will get behind,” said a Senate GOP aide. “He gives them political cover. I don’t think you’re going to see any one bill or one proposal get any momentum until the President publicly endorses it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Thursday that he and the president are actively discussing possible avenues for gun legislation. “He’s anxious to get an outcome and so am I,” said McConnell on a radio show in Kentucky.

The GOP leader stressed that the president was open to a discussion on gun legislation, from background checks to “red flag” bills: “Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.”

A spokesman for McConnell declined to elaborate on the Senate leader’s conversations with the president.

Democrats aren’t holding their breath, given that McConnell won’t call the Senate back from its recess for gun bills and that Trump has backtracked before on the issue after outcry from pro-gun factions of his base.

Democratic aides have been mindful of Sean Hannity’s reaction to the background checks push, since Trump’s position has been known to change based on the broadcasts or private counsel of Hannity and other top Fox personalities.

White House aides are similarly waiting on Trump, and talking up how he’s also been reaching out across the aisle to find a potential solution, even if nobody knows what that would look like yet. “The president has been actively talking to Republicans and Democrats on the matter of background checks, and just being able to have meaningful, measurable reforms that don’t confiscate law-abiding citizens’ firearms without due process, but at the same time keep those firearms out of people who have a propensity toward violence,” Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, said on this week’s Fox News Sunday.

One of those Democratic politicians, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), said in a call with reporters on Wednesday he had spoken to the president twice since the shootings in Dayton and El Paso and that he was “committed to getting something done.”

While “everything is on the table,” Manchin said, Trump’s sign-off on any plan will be key to getting it through the Senate. The proposal introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Manchin in the months after the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary made modest adjustments to background check system by extending checks to gun shows and internet sales, but exempted gun transactions between friends and family members. It also provided additional funding to states to put critical information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in order to prevent people who should not have guns from obtaining them, and created a commission to study the causes of gun violence.

It’s a bill that’s failed twice, once in 2013 and again after the mass shooting in a San Bernardino office park in 2015. Both times it drew very limited support from Republican senators.

Asked what had changed since the last time the bill failed on the Senate floor, Manchin said, “The political will wasn’t there.”

Manchin said he was told by some colleagues who opposed the bill that they really didn’t object to the substance of the bill but they weren’t convinced the “Obama administration wouldn’t go further [and try] taking more of their guns away from them.”

Manchin said he tried to explain that would be unconstitutional, but to no avail.

Some Trump allies say that this president, given his record and rhetoric, might have just enough credibility among Second Amendment enthusiasts to drag them along, if he so chooses.

“If only Nixon could go to China, then maybe only Trump can address the chasm between gun owners and those who want gun control,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser, told The Daily Beast. “He’s so strong on the Second Amendment he can truly do something to make a change when it comes to these mass shootings.”

Caputo, who in 2013 and 2014 advised Trump on pro-gun voters and the NRA when the celebrity businessman was weighing a run for New York governor, said that even years ago, “We talked about mass shootings and what that means to the United States, and the importance [to voters] of the Second Amendment, and I know the president has been thinking about this issue for a long time: How you balance gun rights versus gun atrocities.”

Trump’s former adviser added, “If the president pursues broader background checks… perhaps it’s because he knows that is something only he can do. He may lose the support of some of the most pro-gun members of his base, but the vast majority of us understand there are some reasonable measures to be taken.”

I do have more data comparing the gun violence in the U.S.A. to other countries, which I will save until next week. But the most important point of this post is that those who can make the difference, i.e. the President and Congress have to ignore the NRA and do the right things. I have included a number of options and most important is that we all can not wait for another media circus as they cover the next mass shooting or jus any shooting, especially where the offending weapon is an assault weapon.

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