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    This is why gun violence is a public health problem

    The recent shooting deaths of 17 students and adults at a Florida high school has sparked a new round of debate over ways to curb gun violence. Following the shootings, five physician organizations issued a joint statement calling gun violence “a public health epidemic that is growing in frequency and lethality and…is taking a toll on our patients.” The statement urges lawmakers to treat gun violence as “a pervasive threat to public health” and to take evidence-based measures to prevent future suffering due to guns.

    To learn more about the movement to treat gun violence as a public health issue, and how individual physicians can address the problem, Medical Economics spoke with Jack Ende, MD, MACP, president of the American College of Physicians (ACP), one of the signatories to the joint statement.

    Medical Economics: In your view, would approaching gun violence and gun control as public health issues actually help to reduce gun violence?

    Jack Ende: While we don’t have all the data yet, there are data that suggest that when physicians bring this up in their practice, when they screen for both patients at risk for gun violence—either harming others or themselves—that they can make a difference. And certainly it just makes sense for doctors to take a public stance on this, but also to build this into their day-to-day practice.

    One can really draw the analogy between gun violence and other public health issues, public health issues that at first glance were never considered within the purview of physicians, like wearing seatbelts. And now we’re very much involved in [the campaign of] don’t text while you drive.


    FURTHER READING: Guns should not be allowed in private physicians' office


    Tobacco use is another public health issue. Physicians including this in their general history and physical and providing counseling have been shown to make a real difference. I think it has to be a multi-pronged effort on gun violence, but the medical profession really does have a very important role to play. Not exclusively, of course. We need policymakers at the state and national level, but physicians also have a real role to play here.

    ME: Why do you think Congress and state legislatures have been slow to treat gun violence as a public health issue?

    JE: I think the whole issue unfortunately reflects how we make policy at the national level, oftentimes influenced by specific interest groups rather than national welfare. I’m not a politician, but in certain districts, in certain states, the gun lobby has undue influence over the legislative process.

    The College is not opposed to owning guns. Our policy really is focused on firearm violence. There is within the Second Amendment still so much that can be done to limit the amount of guns, particularly these guns that are more suitable for war than for recreation.

    ME: Does the ACP have an official position regarding the use of guns, or guns in the home?

    Next: "It’s like any other public health problem"


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