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Dr. Andy Sama, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians
Sama

Doc groups renew calls for gun control, mental-health support after Newtown shootings


By Andis Robeznieks
Posted: December 19, 2012 - 2:15 pm ET
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In the aftermath of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., a group representing emergency physicians renewed its call for a ban on assault weapons, while a leader of another doctors organization questioned whether the healthcare industry is doing enough to help curb violence.

The American College of Emergency Physicians—a longtime advocate for stricter gun-control legislation—issued a statement calling for a ban on both assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition cartridges as well as increased funding for mental-health services and funding for firearms injury-prevention research.

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"Emergency physicians see the tragic consequences of gun violence every day," ACEP President Dr. Andy Sama said in a news release. "Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and to everyone affected by this terrible event in Newtown."

In the release, the Dallas-based ACEP noted that its firearm injury policy calls for limiting firearms to those "whose ability to responsibly handle a weapon is assured."

According to the ACEP, a lack of mental-health resources has contributed to an increase in emergency department visits. The group cited research from its Annals of Emergency Medicine journal that found that the incidence of recorded "psychiatric emergencies" grew by 131% between 2000 and 2007. The group called for "government at every level to increase investments in mental-health resources."

In a blog post about the Newtown shootings, Bob Doherty, the American College of Physicians' senior vice president for government affairs and public policy, questioned whether "the healing professions are doing enough" to curb violence.

"Silent reflection in the face of tragedy is a necessity for most of us," Doherty wrote. "But silence in the public policy arena means acquiescence to the cynical and powerless view that there is nothing that can be done to prevent the next Sandy Hook, or Virginia Tech, or Aurora or Columbine."

The American Academy of Family Physicians released a statement from the group's president, Dr. Jeffrey Cain, saying that the organization recognizes violence as "a major public health concern" and that it supports strong enforcement of existing laws on the manufacture, sale and possession of guns; supports legislation requiring the use of trigger locks; and opposes the private ownership of assault weapons.

"The AAFP believes that the public health threat from violence should be similarly treated comprehensively and with a focus on prevention," Cain said in the release. "While we recognize that violence is related to a plethora of factors that must be addressed, we cannot ignore the roles that firearms so often play in these acts.”

Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, president of the American Medical Association, alluded in a blog post to the violence in his home state.

"As a psychiatrist practicing in Colorado for 40 years, I've witnessed and helped treat the pain inflicted by mass shootings on victims and the larger community," Lazarus wrote. "Such devastating tragedies as the recent school shooting in Connecticut leave our communities grief-stricken and searching for solutions to prevent anything so horrific from happening again."

Lazarus noted the need for physicians to be able to respond psychologically to violent events and spot signs and symptoms of people who may need intervention after being exposed to violence.

He also mentioned the AMA's opposition to state laws banning physicians from asking patients and families about guns in their homes.

"Protect the doctor-patient relationship, allowing physicians to discuss firearm safety with parents and adults," Lazarus said. "We can decrease gun accidents by having frank conversations between the physician and patient."


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