In a legislative milestone, the House this week passed the first significant anti-gun violence legislation in a quarter-century. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019(www.congress.gov) would expand background checks for firearm sales to include internet transactions and purchases at gun shows.
Ahead of the Feb. 27 vote on the legislation, the AAFP wrote to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), to offer support for what the Academy called "common-sense legislation" that "protects the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans while seeking to prevent felons, domestic abusers and the mentally ill from lawfully purchasing a firearm."
The Feb. 26 letter,(1 page PDF) which was signed by Board Chair Michael Munger, M.D., of Overland Park, Kan., continued, "The AAFP recognizes firearm-related deaths, injury and violence as a significant public health problem and supports primary prevention strategies to address this issue."
Thompson chairs the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. That group, established after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., now includes more than 165 members of Congress and has invited physicians to participate in its deliberations.
The background check bill was one of two gun violence measures before the House at the end of February. And the Academy's letter echoed its recent support for legislation calling for well-funded, evidence-based research into gun violence.
"The AAFP believes appropriate gun violence research funding and public -health surveillance are essential prevention strategies," the Academy wrote to Thompson about his bill. "In addition, family physicians oppose state 'gag rule' bills that aim to discourage doctor-patient communication regarding the risks of firearms ownership."
Thompson's bill would strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System,(www.fbi.gov) which requires federally licensed gun sellers to conduct background checks on each purchaser -- "an essential strategy for preventing weapons from getting into the hands of those who might be at risk for hurting themselves or others," the Academy said.
On Feb. 28, the House passed another gun-related measure, the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019,(www.congress.gov) which lengthens to 10 days the period afforded the FBI to cross-reference public records.
Even as momentum gathers for efforts to curb the U.S. epidemic of gun violence, however, strong headwinds lie ahead.
A year ago, in the weeks following the mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Fla., President Trump expressed conditional support(www.washingtonpost.com) for new laws, including tougher background checks. The administration has since indicated(www.apnews.com) that Trump would veto both background check bills. Senate leaders, too, have voiced opposition.
The Feb. 26 letter to Thompson reiterated the AAFP's commitment to enacting policy that lessens the risk of gun violence faced by members' patients.
"As physicians, we see firsthand the devastating consequences of violence to victims and their families," the letter said. "Our organization believes that federal and state policies can balance the right to own firearms with health, safety and societal well-being."
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Leader Voices Blog: A Conversation About Violence as a Public Health Crisis
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