HomeWashington Letter2019 ▶ ATS Adopts Gun Violence Prevention Policy
ATS Adopts Gun Violence Prevention Policy

The ATS Board of Directors has adopted policy to address gun violence in the United States.  The board debated and endorsed the comprehensive gun violence policy developed by the American College of Physicians.

Why is the ATS Involved?  #ThisIsOurLane

Before considering the specific policies outlined in the ACP document, the board held a broad discussion to determine whether the ATS had a role to play in the gun violence policy debate. Many board members spoke passionately about the victims of gun violence that they treat in the ICU.  The phrase, “this is our lane” was mentioned frequently during the board discussion, referencing the #ThisIsOurLane social media campaign that gained traction in 2018 after the National Rifle Association tweeted that doctors should “stay in their lane” and not publicly speak out about gun violence.   Further, board members discussed how gun violence exacerbates health disparities in communities across the U.S.  The consensus was that while the ATS may not be experts on gun violence policy, gun violence impacts our patients, our colleagues and our communities.  The need to act was clear.

Why Now? Creating Political Will

A seemingly endless string of gun violence, ranging from mass shootings to accidental deaths, suicides and non-lethal shootings, has made the death and destruction caused by guns a public health crisis.  It is time to address gun violence prevention with the public health tools of research, intervention and analysis that we have applied to other public health problems.  The board felt strongly that the ATS should add its name to the list of physician and public health organizations calling on our nation’s leaders to take effective action on gun violence prevention. It is our hope to create political will that ends the policy paralysis that seems to surround this public health crisis.

What Policies?

The ATS board endorsed the following policies outlined in the ACP document:

  • Background Checks on All Gun Purchases: Comprehensive criminal background checks for all firearm purchases, including sales by gun dealers, sales at gun shows, private sales, and transfers between individuals with limited exceptions should be required. Current federal laws require background check for purchases from retail firearm sellers (Federal Firearms License holders); however, purchases from private sellers and transfer of firearms between private individuals do not require background checks.

  • Research on Firearm Injury and Death:  Research to help us better understand the causes and consequences of firearm-related injury and death and to identify, test, and implement strategies to reduce these events is important.

  • Intimate Partner Violence:  Offenders who have been found guilty of a crime of violence against a family member or intimate partner, including dating partners, cohabitants, stalkers, and those who victimize a family member other than a partner or child, should be reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and be prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms.

  • Safe Storage of Firearms:  Safe storage is essential to reducing the risk for unintentional or intentional injuries or deaths from firearms, particularly in homes with children, adolescents, people with dementia, people with substance use disorders, and the small subset of people with serious mental illnesses that are associated with greater risk of harming themselves and/or others.

  • Mental Health:  The organizations endorsing the ACP policy document support improved access to mental health care and caution against broadly including all individuals with a mental health or substance use disorder in a category of individuals prohibited from purchasing firearms.

  • Extreme Risk Protection Orders:  Extreme risk protection order laws, which allow families and law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from individuals at imminent risk for using them to harm themselves or others, should be enacted in a manner consistent with due process.

  • Physician Gag Rules:  Physicians can and must be able to advise their patients on issues that affect their health, including counseling at-risk patients about mitigating the risks associated with firearms in the home and firearm safety.

  • Firearms with Features Designed to Increase Their Rapid and Extended Killing Capacity:  A common-sense approach to reducing casualties in mass shooting situations must effectively address high-capacity magazines and firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity. 

The board hopes that by adding its support to this call for action and endorsing specific actions policy makers should take to begin to address gun violence public health crises, it can help create the political will necessary to motivate elected officials to take decisive action.  The board felt it was time for the ATS to publicly add its voice to the growing number of physician organizations demanding action on gun violence prevention.  Patients, colleagues and communities deserve nothing less.

Last Reviewed: September 2019