WASHINGTON – Leading medical groups quickly applauded President Obama’s moves Wednesday to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, expand mental health services and take other steps to reduce gun violence in the wake of last month’s deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“The president’s federal policy recommendations today represent the necessary national commitment to addressing gun violence prevention and mental health access in a comprehensive, meaningful way,” said Dr. Thomas K. McInerny, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Medical leaders singled out Obama’s executive order to expand federal research into gun violence, despite efforts by the National Rifle Assn. and its allies to place limits on such work by government agencies.
“We must place a renewed emphasis on improving gun injury and violence research,” said Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Assn. Benjamin called the president’s proposal “a real opportunity to make long-lasting progress on reducing gun violence.”
Obama on Wednesday ordered the secretary of Health and Human Services to “conduct or sponsor research into the causes of gun violence and the ways to prevent it.” He directed the secretary to begin “by identifying the most pressing research questions with the greatest potential public health impact, and by assessing existing public health interventions being implemented across the nation to prevent gun violence.”
The president also clarified that the healthcare law he signed in 2010 does not bar physicians from talking to their patients about gun safety and the presence of firearms in homes.
Several medical groups had expressed concerns about whether they could do this because of a little-noticed section of the Affordable Care Act which restricts wellness and disease prevention programs run by insurers from requiring the collection of data on individuals’ guns.
“The Affordable Care Act does not prohibit or otherwise regulate communication between doctors and patients, including about firearms,” the president’s gun-control plan notes.
The clarification also drew praise from leading medical groups, including the American College of Physicians. Dr. David L. Bronson, the group’s president, also called on state governments to “do their part, by not imposing restrictions on engaging in such discussions with their patients, as some state legislatures have attempted to do.”
[For the Record, 1:02 p.m. PST Jan. 16: Dr. McInerny is the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, not Pediatricians as formerly stated.]