At $50 to $100 apiece for a gun, the buy-back price is a bargain compared to the $45,000 it costs to treat a gunshot victim in a hospital, she said.
Increasingly, many hospitals and healthcare providers are seeing gun violence as a pervasive public health concern that is calling them to action, whether through local outreach programs, policy statements from membership organizations, or demands for legislative change at the state and federal level.
The national sense of horror and outrage that followed from the murders of 26 people in the Newtown, Conn., elementary school—including 20 young children—prompted many organizations to trumpet their existing demands for gun control or to craft new statements.
Thirty-six interest groups for nurses led by the American Nurses Association signed a policy statement calling for greater access to mental health services, better healthcare and mental health services provided in schools, and gun-control efforts including a ban on assault weapons. Among the groups were state nursing associations for Colorado, Connecticut and Arizona—three states that have seen shocking mass shooting incidents in the past two years.
The American College of Emergency Physicians reiterated its stance for more control of firearms and better access to mental health services as national momentum for change seemed to be building in the wake of the Newtown shootings.
ACEP President Dr. Andrew Sama, who is chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., said unequivocally that gun violence is a public health problem that healthcare providers are positioned to address in several ways.
In addition to pressing for national bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, he supports physicians' rights to ask families about whether they keep guns in the home. Florida officials recently passed a law banning that practice, and several southern states are said to be debating similar laws.
“I think a doctor or any healthcare provider should be able to ask any question that would affect any public health issue, and if that's one, fine,” Sama said.
Dr. Michael Hirsh, the surgeon in chief of the UMass Memorial Children's Medical Center in Worcester, Mass., said physicians' right to ask about guns in the home is part of the “sacrosanct” relationship between patients and families, and that doctors should have the right to inform families about the importance of securing their guns from children and burglars.
Proponents of the Florida law said a physician had no right to ask about gun ownership, but Hirsh noted that a physician in Newtown might have been able to ask questions that could have presaged problems in the home of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza.
“We hear about a mom who is a gun enthusiast who seems to have a child who was having some mental problems, and as a means of bonding with that child, she takes that child to the gun range. It's very distressing,” Hirsh said. A physician, he said, could ask a patient what they like to do for fun. “If the answer is, I go to a shooting range, that starts a whole range of questions.”
A wide swath of medical societies plunged into deliberations last week about how to respond to the Newtown shootings and enter the debate over gun violence in more forceful ways, Hirsh said.