Last week a California Congressman, Michael Honda, introduced a bill that, if enacted, would end what has been the nefarious and disturbing strategy adopted by the pro-gun gang to push medicine out of the gun violence debate. This strategy has three basic dimensions: (1). To define the 100,000 mortalities/morbidities from guns as something other than a public health issue; (2). to prevent public health research into gun violence by defunding relevant research budgets of the CDC; (3). to criminalize and/or otherwise prevent physicians from talking to patients about access to guns.
Don’t think for a second that it’s only a bunch of yahoos and red-neck gun nuts who believe that 100,000 deaths and injuries committed with guns doesn’t constitute a problem for public health. Last year we were treated to the spectacle of a U.S. Senator who happens to be a physician, if only a self-certified one, blocking the appointment of the Surgeon General because Vivek Murthy had actually stated that guns were a public health threat. It should be added, incidentally, that this self-same jerk (not Murthy, obviously) claims that if he is elected President, he’ll uphold the “entire Bill of Rights, but specifically our right to bear arms.” So I guess he’ll support the other nine Amendments but only in general terms.
The defunding of CDC research into gun violence was payback by the NRA for the Brady Bill and the ten-year assault weapons ban that were passed by Congress just before the Democrats lost their majorities in both the House and the Senate in the Republican landslide of 1994. The spending cutoff didn’t end gun research per se, because private foundations and other sources jumped in and provided much-needed support. But what the research ban accomplished was to send a signal to the medical community, both clinicians and researchers, that gun violence was simply not considered an issue of public concern. Which made it that much more difficult to advance legislative responses to deaths and injuries from guns.
There are now three states which have passed laws copying more or less the Florida statute that criminalizes the behavior of doctors who talk to patients about guns. This law, known as Docs Vs. Glocks, is still being kicked around in the Federal courts, but if it is ever declared completely and totally Constitutional, the law will no doubt appear in other gun-rich states as well. The Florida law, of course, allows clinicians to talk to patients about guns if the physician decides that the patient represents a “clear danger” to himself or someone else. Of course the only way that a physician can make such a determination about access to guns or access to any life-threatening situation is by having the widest possible latitude to discuss, in privacy, anything that goes on. But try and explain this to the legislators in the Gunshine State who cynically cast a quick and easy vote reminding their constituents that protecting their 2nd-Amendment rights is more important than protecting their health.
Congressman Honda’s bill seeks to remedy this entire state of affairs. Called the “Gun Violence Research Act, “ the bill specifically re-inserts language into the Public Health Service Act calling for research into ”the causes, mechanisms, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of injuries, including with respect to gun violence;” it also authorizes funding of this research through 2020; and most important, it prevents prohibiting a physician or other health provider from asking a patient about guns.
All the bill’s co-sponsors are Democrats, which shouldn’t surprise. But the good news is that we now have an explicit legislative remedy that can be used against the gun gang’s shabby and dangerous efforts to silence medicine about the health risks of guns. Don’t get me wrong. We accept many risks in everyday life and if someone wants to accept gun risk for whatever reason, they can do as they please. But the role of the physician is to reduce harm, and guns are harmful, no matter what anyone says.
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