February 26, 2019 12:47 pm News Staff – The AAFP is pressing Congress and the administration to address U.S. gun violence as an epidemic that threatens public health. The first steps: Fund evidence-based research showing the scope of the problem and ensure its public reporting.
In Feb. 21 letters to committee leaders in the Senate(5 page PDF) and the House,(5 page PDF) the AAFP joined more than 160 other medical, public health and research organizations to ask for $50 million in CDC funding in fiscal year 2020 "to conduct public health research into firearm morbidity and mortality prevention."
The funding, if continued annually, could support 10 to 20 new large, multi-year studies each year or even more single-year studies, the organizations said, as well as help rebuild a research community that has shrunk in recent decades.
And in a separate Feb. 8 letter(1 page PDF) to U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) signed by Board Chair Michael Munger, M.D., of Overland Park, Kan., the Academy expressed support for legislation she introduced, the Recognizing Gun Violence as a Public Health Emergency Act of 2019. The bill would require the U.S. surgeon general to submit an annual report to Congress on the impact of gun violence on public health, along with recommended actions.
"The AAFP recognizes firearm-related deaths, injuries and violence as a significant public health problem," that letter said. "We support primary prevention strategies to protect individuals and communities. We also believe that federal and state governments can respect gun ownership while protecting the nation's health and well-being."
The Feb. 21 letters expounded on this perspective.
"Federally funded public health research has a proven track record of reducing public health-related deaths, whether from motor vehicle crashes, smoking or sudden infant death syndrome," that correspondence said. "This same approach should be applied to increasing gun safety and reducing firearm-related injuries and deaths."
The Feb. 21 letters mirror correspondence sent to Congress last year by a similar coalition that the AAFP joined. Again, the new campaign cites February 2018 comments by HHS Secretary Alex Azar regarding the Dickey Amendment, which for more than two decades has kept research on gun-related violence at a standstill.
"My understanding is that the rider does not in any way impede our ability to conduct our research mission," Azar told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee last winter. His testimony came the day after 17 children and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., were shot dead by a former student.
At that time, the Academy joined four peer medical groups in calling on the Trump administration and Congress to address gun violence as a public health crisis. Among other measures, the organizations asked the federal government to fund appropriate CDC research on gun violence in fiscal year 2018.
That didn't happen, and the CDC has continued not to fund research into what the Feb. 21 letters called "important issues, including the best ways to prevent unintended firearm injuries and fatalities among women and children, the most effective methods to prevent firearm-related suicides, the measures that can best prevent the next shooting at a school or public place, and numerous other vital public health questions."
The letters added: "Robust research on motor vehicle crashes, and subsequent legislation, have helped save hundreds of thousands of lives through public health interventions, including seat belts and other safety features. The same approach can help reduce gun violence in our communities."
More From AAFP
American Family Physician: Editorials: Preventing Gun Violence: The Role of Family Physicians