Each year, more than 32,000 people die as a result of firearm-related violence, suicides, and accidents in the United States, and firearms are the second-leading cause of death due to injury after motor vehicle crashes for adults and adolescents. Much attention has been given to the recent mass shootings that have occurred in recent years, but the 88 deaths per day due to firearms are equally concerning.
“Firearm injuries and deaths are a serious public health crisis at EDs throughout the U.S.,” says Dean Wilkerson, JD, MBA. “Although there is some disagreement among emergency physicians about firearms in our society, we all agree that the cost in lives and dollars is too high.” He adds that physician groups like the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and others must take the lead on making efforts to reduce firearms injuries and deaths in the U.S.
Common Sense Recommendations
Leaders from eight professional health organizations, including ACEP, recently issued a call to action to reduce firearms injuries and deaths. Published in Annals of Internal Medicine, the policy recommendations outline the scope of deaths and injuries from firearms and are based on positions already approved and adopted by the participating organizations. “These are common sense recommendations that are consistent with our constitutional rights that aim to reduce the burden of gun violence,” Wilkerson says. Specific recommendations include:
- Universal background checks of gun purchasers.
- Restricting the manufacture and sale of military-style assault weapons and large-capacity magazines for civilian use.
- Elimination of physician “gag laws.”
- Research to support strategies for reducing firearm-related injuries and deaths.
The organizations also advocate for improving access to mental health services and avoiding the stigmatization of people with these disorders through blanket reporting laws. “Emergency physicians see the consequences of unmet psychiatric needs in their EDs on a daily basis,” says Wilkerson. It is critical to keep firearms away from those who may harm themselves or others without depriving people who are diagnosed with mental illness of their constitutionally-protected rights to possess firearms.
Move Research Forward
The call-to-action article emphasizes that funds be allotted for research into the causes and consequences of firearms violence and accidental injuries. Data are also needed to develop evidence-based strategies to reduce these problems and focus more on injury prevention. “Emergency physicians can join the effort by telling their stories of the impact of gun violence in editorials and annual meetings of medical associations,” Wilkerson says. “They can also get involved by supporting legislative efforts. It will take a team effort to find solutions, but it’s one that is worthwhile in an effort to curb this growing problem.”
Readings & Resources (click to view)
Weinberger SE, Hoyt DB, Lawrence III HC, et al. Firearm-related Injury and death in the United States: a call to action from 8 health professional organizations and the American Bar Association. Ann Intern Med. 2015 Feb 24 [Epub ahead of print]. Available at: http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2151828.
Frattaroli S, Webster DW, Wintemute GJ. Implementing a public health approach to gun violence prevention: the importance of physician engagement. Ann Intern Med. 2013;158:697-698.
Laine C, Taichman DB, Mulrow C, Berkwits M, Cotton D, Williams SV. A resolution for physicians: time to focus on the public health threat of gun violence. Ann Intern Med. 2013;158:493-494.
Butkus R, Doherty R, Daniel H; Health and Public Policy Committee of the American College of Physicians. Reducing firearm-related injuries and deaths in the United States: executive summary of a policy position paper from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2014;160:858-860.
Fisher CE, Lieberman JA. Getting the facts straight about gun violence and mental illness: putting compassion before fear. Ann Intern Med. 2013;159:423-424.