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Supporting Research Into Gun Violence is a Vital Public Health Concern

  • January 16, 2019
  • What APA is Doing For You

As physicians, we rely on a science-based approach to problem solving and know that solutions must be developed through evidence and extensive research. The APA believes that robust study into the underlying causes of gun violence and the effectiveness of potential interventions is necessary to reversing course and preventing further injury, death and other harms to society resulting from firearms.

Gun violence has regretfully blossomed into epidemic proportions in the United States and a serious threat to the nation’s public health. As physicians and experts in the mind, body and brain, psychiatrists have a vital role to play in advocating for change based on quality research on this issue. That is why the American Psychiatric Association has decided to work with the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), a grassroots physician-led foundation dedicated to the funding of high-quality, high-impact research to prevent gun violence.

APA is proud to join many other leading health organizations, such as the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other partners in the house of medicine, in identifying gun violence as a public health crisis that requires a comprehensive and multifaceted approach.

Gun violence exacts a terrible human toll on American families each year, and its impact on mental health is a very serious concern. APA conducted a public opinion poll in 2018 and found that Americans are more united than divided when it comes to guns. The vast majority see gun safety as an issue, and they want to see actions to prevent gun violence. More than 87 percent see gun violence as a public health threat, including 77 percent of Republicans and 96 percent of Democrats. The APA has and will continue to call for Congress to take sensible, evidence-based action to prevent future deaths with dedicated federal funding for research.

Now that federal legislative barriers to gun violence research have been lifted, it is imperative that we work alongside our colleagues in AFFIRM and other allied groups to secure funding for these research efforts to bridge the research gap.

A robust study into the underlying causes of gun violence and the effectiveness of potential interventions is necessary to reverse the current trend in gun violence and prevent further injury, death and other damage to society resulting from firearms. Further study is also necessary to help address the common misconception linking mental illness and gun violence. In fact, other research has shown that people with serious mental illness are far more likely to victims of violence than perpetrators of violence.

AFFIRM seeks to address this by raising private funding to support research into the causes of gun violence, risk factors associated with gun violence, and potential interventions. This research will produce best practice recommendations, clinical, educational resources and evidence-based training curricula to be integrated into medical education and clinical practice.

As physicians, we have the opportunity to educate our patients about the risks of keeping guns in the home, particularly in the presence of children and people with mental illnesses including substance use disorders, who are at risk of harming themselves or others. There is no federal statute prohibiting physicians from counseling patients on firearms as they would other health matters. Currently, only Florida has a state law that discourages physicians from discussing firearms with their patients.

APA stands ready to assist AFFIRM and our other partners in taking a science-based approach to solving this important public health problem.

What APA is Doing For You

This blog post is part of an occasional series highlighting how APA advocates on your behalf to support the profession of psychiatry and put our interests before key policymakers.

News Author

Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., FRCP-E,  FRCPsych

Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., FRCP-E, FRCPsych

Chief Executive Officer and Medical Director, American Psychiatric Association
Chair, Board of Directors, APA Foundation
Clinical Professor at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Medical leadership for mind, brain and body.

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