In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, the nation's leading medical society voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to end two years of debate over its stance on gun violence research and called on Congress to lift the decades-old ban on federal funding.
Delegates at the American Medical Association annual meeting in Chicago voted in favor of a resolution calling for the organization to declare gun violence as a public health issue and to employ a “public health response” to address the problem.
Supporters of the proposal said applying a public health approach to gun violence requires ending a de facto ban implemented by Congress in 1996 that prevents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from funding research on gun violence.
“We need to be realistic about those that are obstructing science and public health in regard to this crisis,” said Dr. Mike Miller, an AMA delegate from Wisconsin. “We are the shame of the world, other nations look at us and go 'what is wrong with America?'—let AMA be part of turning the tide to make something right.”
Despite multiple attempts to repeal the ban in light of the hundreds of mass shootings in the years that followed, the ban has remained in place.
“Even as America faces a crisis unrivaled in any other developed country, the Congress prohibits the CDC from conducting the very research that would help us understand the problems associated with gun violence and determine how to reduce the high rate of firearm-related deaths and injuries,” AMA President Dr. Steven Stack, an emergency medicine specialist, said in a written statement. “An epidemiological analysis of gun violence is vital so physicians and other health providers, law enforcement and society at large may be able to prevent injury, death and other harms to society resulting from firearms.”
The AMA has adopted several policies in the past advocating for increased gun safety, including supporting such measures as establishing waiting periods before the purchase of firearms and requiring background checks for all handgun buyers.
But previous attempts by gun control advocates to sway the AMA to take more action have stalled, and the issued has been divisive among delegates.
“It's about time we took some action to implement our policy and try to make a difference,” said Dr. Robert Gilchick, a member of the AMA's Council on Science and Public Health, speaking on behalf of the American College of Preventive Medicine. “How many more mass shootings do we have to sit through—not one more I hope.”
Heavy on the minds of the majority of delegates who spoke out in favor of the resolution was the shooting early Sunday at an Orlando nightclub where a gunman killed 49 people before he was gunned down by police.
But some delegates also talked about the gun violence that occurs in some communities every day and disproportionately affects minority groups.
“Black males and women like me are more likely to be victims of violence,” said Dr. Dionne Hart, a delegate for the AMA's Minority Affairs Section. “We are losing our most precious resources. We need to protect our communities.”
More than 30,000 Americans die each year from guns used in homicides and suicides, and hundreds more die from guns that are accidentally discharged.