BY ALEX ZIELINSKI – – – – – –
The largest medical organization in the United States, the American Medical Association, passed a historic resolution last night in response to the weekend’s mass shooting. After years of tiptoeing around the topic of gun control, AMA leaders voted to officially call gun violence a public health issue — and respond accordingly. That means flexing the organization’s powerful political muscle on Capitol Hill to refocus federal funds toward studying gun violence.
To see this through, however, Congress would need to lift a 20-year-old ban that blocks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from funding any research related to gun violence. But the AMA, with one of the largest political lobbying budgets of any organization in the U.S., appears ready to fight.
“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 Dr. Steven Stack, in a written 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.
This 1996 funding block, also known as the Dickey Amendment, was heavily lobbied for by the National Rifle Association, who saw any negative research on guns as an attack on their industry. Since its initiation, the number of gun-inflicted homicides in the U.S. has continued to skyrocket far beyond other advanced democratic countries.
Physicians, scientists, politicians, and family members of gun violence victims have demanded the ban’s repeal for years. Even Jay Dickey, the former Republican representative who led the bill through Congress, has openly expressed his regret for helping the ban advance. President Obama tried to lift the gun research restrictions in 2012 — but ultimately couldn’t stop Congress from continuing to block funding requests.
The AMA has been relatively passive in their support of gun safety over recent years. But the recent mass shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando, which left 50 people dead, appeared to push its leaders to a tipping point.
“It’s about time we took some action to implement our policy and try to make a difference,” said Dr. Robert Gilchick, a member of the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health. “How many more mass shootings do we have to sit through—not one more I hope.”
Dr. Mike Miller, an AMA delegate that voted on this resolution, called the U.S. the “shame of the world” for its inaction on gun violence.
“Other nations look at us and go ‘what is wrong with America?'” he told Modern Healthcare. “Let AMA be part of turning the tide to make something right.”