Photograph by Jim Young / Reuters

The American Medical Association will actively lobby lawmakers on the issue.

By Sy Mukherjee
June 15, 2016

The largest physician trade organization in the U.S. is urging Congress to fund research on gun violence causes and prevention in the wake of the worst mass shooting in American history.

The 224,500-member American Medical Association (AMA) voted Tuesday to officially label gun violence a “public health crisis” after a gunman slaughtered 49 people and injured 53 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando over the weekend. The group also pointed to the fact that there have already been more than 6,000 firearm-related deaths in 2016 alone.

Additionally, the AMA voted to adopt a policy of actively lobbying Congress to overturn decades-old legislation which has effectively put a gag order on federal gun violence research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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“Even as America faces a crisis unrivaled in any other developed country, the Congress prohibits the CDC from conducting the very research that would help us understand the problems associated with gun violence and determine how to reduce the high rate of firearm-related deaths and injuries,” said AMA President Steven J. Stack in a statement.

“An epidemiological analysis of gun violence is vital so physicians and other health providers, law enforcement, and society at large may be able to prevent injury, death, and other harms to society resulting from firearms,” he added.

The research ban on gun violence dates back to 1996, when the National Rifle Association (NRA) balked at CDC injury control studies it claimed amounted to lobbying for gun control. NRA allies in Congress proceeded to strip CDC funding and reallocate it for different purposes, passing legislation barring the CDC from using injury research appropriations “to advocate or promote gun control.”

 

That was enough to put a chilling effect on federally-funded public health experts who may have wished to examine the issue. Although President Barack Obama attempted to unilaterally overturn the ban via executive order shortly after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, Congress has refused the president’s requests for $10 million in CDC funding for gun violence research. With appropriations nearly non-existent and researchers wary of becoming political targets for the NRA, the ban will effectively persist barring a Congressional reversal.

The AMA isn’t the only physician group which has taken strong positions on firearms and related injuries. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American Psychiatric Association, and other groups have also endorsed policies meant to mitigate gun violence, pointing to its high costs to public health, the medical system, and taxpayers.

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