Our Opinion: State physicians have role in gun safety

Massachusetts had the lowest gun death rate in the country in 2015 and for good reason. A new initiative announced Monday by state Attorney General Maura Healey should further reduce gun-related injuries and deaths.

The attorney general is joining with the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) to make information brochures and online training available to Massachusetts physicians who want to discuss gun safety with patients (Eagle, February 14). At a press conference at Boston Medical Center, Ms. Healey observed that medical care providers are "on the front lines" of all health related issues, which includes guns, and by educating themselves and patients about gun safety they can reduce the number of injuries and deaths that occur annually.

"Gun violence is a major public health threat and physicians can play a key role in curbing the violence" said MMS President Dr. James Gessner Monday. In Washington, Congress has blocked federal research into the public health threat posed by guns since 1996. When President Obama issued an executive order in 2012 in the wake of the Newtown school massacre instructing the Centers for Disease Control to explore the reasons for gun violence and ways to prevent it, Congress turned back bills giving the CDC $10 million to fund that effort. According to Everytown for Gun Safety Research, 13,280 people were killed and 26,800 people were injured by guns in 2015 in the U.S. (these figures exclude suicides), so guns are plainly a threat to public health and should be treated as such in Massachusetts, even if Washington refuses to for reasons of ideology.

The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and the Massachusetts Major Cities Chiefs Association each endorsed the initiative by the attorney general and the MMS. Police chiefs' groups and police officers' unions in both the state and nation are routinely supportive of initiatives to reduce gun violence. Unlike a National Rifle Association lobbyist, for example, police are squarely in the line of fire in a nation which has proven unable or unwilling to deal with its gun sickness. The state initiative poses no threat to hunters or other responsible gun owners who already embrace gun safety.

With the U.S. House voting earlier this month to block an Obama administration rule requiring the Social Security Administration to send records of beneficiaries with severe mental disabilities to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and with the U.S. Senate likely to do the same, it is critically important that Massachusetts initiate common sense gun measures to balance to some degree the gun initiatives coming out of Washington that defy common sense. The measure encouraging physicians to get involved in gun safety is a good example of that kind of state effort.


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