The President’s Podium: Physicians and Gun Violence II

by James S. Gessner, M.D., President, Massachusetts Medical Society

Last June, I devoted a President’s Podium to the subject of physicians and gun violence, noting our long-standing policy on firearm violence and the more recent efforts MMS has made to address this growing public health crisis.

Our latest activities include the creation of continuing medical education courses, based on content from our 2016 Public Health Leadership Forum, and a dedicated website at www.massmed.org/firearms, offering a variety of resources on firearm violence and gun safety.

Today I had the privilege of standing with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Massachusetts law enforcement officials to announce new initiatives in enhancing provider-patient relationships regarding firearms. I take this space to share my remarks from the press conference with you.

Madam Attorney General, on behalf of the physicians of Massachusetts, I thank you for the invitation to co-sponsor and participate in today’s event.  It is an honor to stand here with you, other health care leaders, and law enforcement officials to remind everyone what has been evident for some time:  that gun violence is a major public health threat.

That physicians are collaborating in this event and are taking a stand against gun violence alongside law enforcement should not be considered unusual. For more than 20 years, our state medical society has been engaged in efforts to reduce violence in many forms. 

The physicians of our Committee on Violence Intervention and Prevention since 1995 have provided resources for both physicians, health care providers, and patients in such areas as intimate partner violence, bullying, child abuse, and human trafficking.  Gun violence has been prominent among those topics.


Physician efforts at gun violence have been directed at reducing deaths and injuries, making gun ownership safer, promoting education among health providers, and encouraging research to understand the risk factors related to gun violence.

The numbers alone make it abundantly clear that firearm violence is indeed a public health issue: more than 130 mass shootings have occurred in 39 states since 2009; more than 36,000 persons die from firearm injuries in the United States every year with 64 percent being suicides and 33 percent homicides; on an average day, more than 90 Americans are killed with guns, including seven children and teenagers; and for every person killed by a gun, two more are injured.  The number of deaths from firearms are rivaling those from motor vehicle accidents and in many states have surpassed vehicle fatalities.

Massachusetts, however, stands out, with the lowest gun death rate in the country for 2015, the last year for which statistics are available.  We may pride ourselves on having the lowest death rate, but let us remember that 213 people in Massachusetts still lost their lives to firearms in that year.    

Strong firearm laws have contributed to the state’s low death rate.  But awareness and education must also play important roles, and the Massachusetts Medical Society is pleased to continue its educational efforts in collaboration with Attorney General Healey’s office and law enforcement leaders across the state in educating individuals about safe storage and disposal of firearms, and in encouraging health care providers to talk to their patients about gun safety.  These efforts complement our Society’s continuing medical education courses on firearm violence.

Increasingly, physicians are making their voices heard about gun violence.

Two years ago, more than one dozen physician organizations, along with the American Public Health Association and the American Bar Association, issued a call to action, declaring that deaths and injuries from firearms are a major public health problem in the United States.  Last year, the American Medical Association adopted a policy calling gun violence in the United States a “public health crisis.”

Also last year, our medical society sponsored a public health forum on firearm violence, featuring community leaders and public health and law enforcement officials, and Attorney General Healey was kind enough to accept our invitation to be the keynote speaker for that event.

In her remarks, she highlighted the importance of physician participation in curbing gun violence, and said it will require a “partnership” with physicians.  Physicians agree, Ms. Healey, and I will conclude my remarks by saying “You can count on that.”  

The President’s Podium appears periodically on the MMS blog, offering Dr. Gessner’s commentary on a range of issues in health and medicine.

Pictured: Covers of brochures for patients and physicians/health care providers provided by the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General and the Massachusetts Medical Society and endorsed by the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police. Available free via download from www.massmed.org/firearms

 

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