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In wake of Orlando slaughter, medical calls to action to prevent more killing by gun violence

June 15, 2016

The IPPNW delegation to last week’s United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons 6th Biennial Meeting of States returned to our homes this past weekend to the horrifying news of the slaughter of 49 innocent people at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and the wounding of another 50 or more. The weapons used by a lone gunman to wreak this carnage against members of the LGBT community included a semi-automatic assault rifle designed to kill many people quickly and easily. It was purchased legally under current US firearm regulations, by a person with a known propensity for violence.

Although we knew that our message on public health approaches to preventing armed violence resonated with many diplomats at the UN meeting, our efforts at influencing policy making suddenly seemed unsatisfactory in the wake of yet another gun massacre in America.

We were all sickened, and angry.

Bill Durston speaks on panel w PFSALW

Dr. Bill Durston speaks on IPPNW/Parliamentary Forum on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PFSALW) panel on armed violence prevention at UN side event, seated next to Karin Olofsson, Secretary General of PFSALW , with Uruguayan Senator Daisy Tourne at far right.

Dr. Bill Durston, president of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) Sacramento and a leading voice for IPPNW at the UN meeting, issued a press release expressing sadness and outrage at “yet another mass shooting in our country” and called for action, quoting the words of Senator Thomas Dodd, from 1968:

Pious condolences will no longer suffice….Quarter measures and half measures will no longer suffice….The time has now come that we must enact stringent gun control legislation comparable to the legislation in force in virtually every civilized country in the world.”

That’s right: 1968—almost 50 years ago!

In Chicago yesterday the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a policy resolution —finally—calling gun violence in the United States “a public health crisis requiring a comprehensive public health response and solution.” The AMA resolved to “actively lobby Congress to overturn legislation that for 20 years has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from researching gun violence.”

The AMA is catching up to what many public health experts have been saying for some time now. In January, a “Who’s Who” of public health and medical organizations, from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the American Public Health Association sent a letter to Congress calling for a lifting of the ban and urging appropriation of “at least $10 million in FY 2016, along with sufficient new funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to support research into the causes and prevention of gun violence.”

The Atlantic has done a series of excellent articles chronicling the need for this, the most recent on in April, titled “Why did the CDC stop researching gun violence?

With the AMA joining a growing chorus of others, maybe now something will be done, in concert with other legislative efforts.

“With approximately 30,000 men, women and children dying each year at the barrel of a gun in elementary schools, movie theaters, workplaces, houses of worship and on live television, the United States faces a public health crisis of gun violence,” said AMA President Steven J. Stack, MD. “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. “

“Now is the time to act,” added Joshua Cohen, MD, from New York. “We will not stand by and watch our fellow Americans be slaughtered by the thousands.”

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