Physicians in the AMA House of Delegates overwhelmingly supported resolutions urging the AMA to support congressional legislation requiring criminal background checks prior to all gun sales. The votes came in the wake of at least three more highly publicized episodes of gun violence occurring within a month of the AMA’s annual policymaking meeting in Chicago in June and had the support of physicians across multiple disciplines.
A resolution originally brought by the delegation from New England states asked the AMA to support federal efforts to make licensing and background checks mandatory for all firearm purchases and transfers, “regardless of seller or the individual making the transfer.”
David Fassler, M.D., speaking for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), pointed out that AACAP has established “clear and consistent policy” with respect to firearms. “We are well aware that many young people have easy access to guns,” he said. “In a recent survey, over 5 percent of high school students indicated that they carried a gun in the past month, and it’s estimated that approximately 1 million children and adolescents bring guns to school each year. Young people are also often the victims of gun-related violence.”
Fassler noted that a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that gun-related violence kills twice as many children and adolescents as cancer does, five times more than heart disease does, and 15 times more than infections do. “Overall, the majority of people killed in firearm-related accidents are under the age of 24,” he emphasized. “For these reasons, the academy supports increased funding for research on gun safety, the prevention of gun-related violence, and the mental health needs of children and families affected by gun-related violence, as well as strict enforcement of existing laws pertaining to the purchase, ownership, and storage of firearms.”
He added that AACAP supports mandatory background checks for “all transactions related to gun ownership.”
But the resolution—and a later substitute resolution to support congressional passage of legislation requiring “licensing and background checks for all buyers of firearms”—was referred to the AMA Board of Trustees after some physicians raised concerns about trying to regulate private transfers of firearms, such as when a family member bequeaths a hunting rifle to a relative.
Referral of a resolution or report typically occurs when delegates seek the input of the Board of Trustees on issues that may be legally or logistically complex or problematic. The Board may report back to the House or assign the issue to one of the AMA’s governing councils for input.
Supporters of the resolution pointed to the fact that murders and mass shootings are often committed with guns procured privately rather than through a licensed firearms dealer. “This is not about regulating transfers of a gun within a family but about individuals who purchase guns from insidious people to use for illicit or dangerous purposes,” explained Mario Motta, M.D., a physician from Massachusetts.
But others said that to require licensing of even private transfers would be regulatory overreach and could be difficult to enforce. And Florida psychiatrist Ryan Hall, M.D., a delegate from the Young Physicians Section, noted that he typically requests that guns be removed from the homes of patients who are suicidal or have expressed homicidal thoughts. “I would be concerned about creating another impediment to removing a firearm from the household when there is a dangerous situation,” he said. ■