Last week, representatives from the National Rifle Association told doctors who were advocating for gun safety to “stay in their own lane” when it comes to policy.
Physicians quickly fought back on Twitter, arguing firearm violence is a public health issue. Under the hashtag #ThisISMyLane, they shared stories about mass violence victims, patients shot in gang crossfire and children killed while playing with guns.
It’s the latest flare-up in an ongoing debate between doctors and gun rights advocates about whether doctors should be making recommendations about firearm safety. It comes after the American College of Physicians put out new guidelines on what physicians can do to prevent gun violence.
Dr. Garen Wintemute, director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program, has been fighting this battle for decades.
“I suspect this will create lasting change,” he said of the Twitter debate. “As it happens, some of us have been working for over a year to set up an infrastructure to support physicians as they talk to patients about firearms.”
His research center launched in 2017 with $5 million in state grants. It can be hard for physicians to get government funding for this topic because of federal restrictions on gun control research. In some states, gun rights advocates have tried to pass laws preventing doctors from talking to patients about guns.
Wintemute is pushing for stricter background checks and more frequent use of the state’s gun violence restraining order — interventions he and other physicians believe are key to preventing mass shootings such as the one in Thousand Oaks last week.
A national group called Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, which opposes physician involvement in gun control, weighed in on the Twitter debate. They said in a statement that physicians often take action “based on the erroneous notion that guns are a direct causative agent of injuries, death and other societal ills.”
“[Physicians] are in the wrong profession if they want to cure society’s ills,” it read. “If that was their life’s calling, they should have pursued a career path in psychology, criminology or the clergy.”
The UC Davis center put out a survey on California gun ownership earlier this month, the first in several decades. It found that 25 percent of respondents didn’t undergo a background check when they purchased their last firearm.
“There’s been evidence that background checks, while effective on the individual level, are not as effective at the population level as we would like them to be,” Wintemute said. “We’ve wondered if one of the reasons for that is people simply aren’t getting background checks. That’s part of the situation.”
The NRA opposes expanding background checks, arguing that most people who commit firearm crimes acquire their guns illegally.
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