AMA Declares Gun Violence 'A Public Health Crisis'
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep with news of an effort to end a 20-year-old roadblock to gun research. The effort comes from the American Medical Association. That nationwide group of doctors has declared gun violence to be a public health crisis.
STEVEN STACK: Thirty thousand people a year is a tragedy we simply cannot continue to accept.
INSKEEP: That's Dr. Steven Stack who just finished his term as president of the AMA. He is also an emergency room physician. Emergency departments, of course, get the first look at many gun injuries. Declaring a public health crisis is not intended simply as words. The AMA wants to push Congress to end an effective ban on federal funding for research into gun violence. Why say this now?
STACK: Well, obviously the events that happened in Orlando put an alarming and tragic punctuation on a crisis that has been festering for quite some time. And so the AMA's annual policymaking meeting happened to occur here in Chicago and has given us the opportunity to take policy we have formed over more than 20 years and extend that further to direct the AMA to deploy its resources to advocate to Congress to lift the ban on prohibiting gun research.
INSKEEP: Now, I can imagine a gun rights advocate asking if you have declared the right crisis. They might say, isn't this really a mental health crisis, or isn't this really a terrorism crisis?
STACK: Well, it's a complicated issue, which is why we want to apply a scientifically-based approach to it. I'll give you a corollary example. We have done extensive research on automobile-related safety that has resulted in things such as seat belts and air bags and other safety devices. Nobody's had their automobile taken from them as a result, but thousands of lives have been saved every year as a result of those research and interventions.
INSKEEP: So you're pointing specifically to this federal ban on research, we should say effective ban on research, which was imposed about 20 years ago. What has that done on a day-to-day basis to people who want to research this issue?
STACK: Well, what we have found is that folks at the CDC feel that they have very limited resources and that there is a strong dissuasion for them to do research on this topic. Of course, politics get involved and the concern about what could be done to other funding for other research agendas is a concern.
And so this step that was taken in 1996, I believe, was not intended to entirely prohibit research in gun-related violence, but it has had that effect on gun-related violence. So we think Congress should be absolutely explicit that in an enlightened nation, in the United States of America, that we should be willing to explore the root causes of this horrible tragedy and epidemic and at least understand it better so we can find out what solutions the nation and society at large is willing to take to mitigate it and address it.
INSKEEP: So you would put gun control on the table and perhaps other things having to do with mental illness.
STACK: Well, we'd put the research into gun-related violence on the table and then let the research and the science guide subsequent advice as to what we should do as a nation.
INSKEEP: Granting the research hasn't been done. You used that analogy to cars and developing seatbelts. What's the gun equivalent of a seatbelt?
STACK: Well, you know, there are a number of different things. How do we address folks who may be dangerous getting access to guns? Are there things we can do that don't prohibit people's reasonable use of firearms, but at the same time prohibit the unreasonable or violent use of firearms? Are there safety measures that can be taken with guns that allow the user, who appropriately owns it, to use it but prevent others from doing it?
INSKEEP: Has your personal experience as an emergency room physician affected your position on this?
STACK: Well, my experience as an emergency physician is one where I see the tragedies of these. Colleagues whom I know who have had to participate in the immediate aftermath of response for these mass casualty events - it is a horrific experience, and it is a gut-wrenching, vivid memory that does not leave them for the rest of their lives.
INSKEEP: Dr. Stack, thanks very much.
STACK: Thank you very much, Steve. It's been a pleasure.
INSKEEP: Dr. Steven Stack who was, until recently, the president of the American Medical Association.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Democrats in Congress have been pushing for other guy measures. At 11:21 yesterday morning, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy interrupted Senate proceedings. He launched a filibuster, blocking other Senate business until lawmakers agreed to vote on gun control measures.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHRIS MURPHY: I've had enough. I'm going to remain on this floor until we get some signal, some sign, that we can get a path forward.
INSKEEP: A number of senators spoke for more than 14 hours until about 2 o'clock this morning. They're seeking legislation that would ban people on terror watch lists from purchasing firearms.
MONTAGNE: They also want universal background checks. Murphy was joined by two Republican senators and 38 Democratic senators, including Cory Booker of New Jersey.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CORY BOOKER: What we are seeking is not radical. What we're seeking is not something that is partisan. What we're seeking is common sense.
INSKEEP: That's Democrat Cory Booker, one of the senators who joined a filibuster on gun control.
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