Under the gun: The physician response to gun violence in America

Like opioids and viral illnesses, gun violence in America has become an epidemic.


In 2020, firearm-related injury surpassed motor vehicle accidents to become the leading cause of death in U.S. children. Like opioids and viral illnesses, gun violence in America has become an epidemic.

Needless to say, there is much to advocate for regarding gun violence, and the AOA has been working to address this epidemic over the last few years. In 2018, the AOA House passed a resolution advocating for comprehensive legislation to address gun violence. With the passing of H630-A/18, the AOA called for Congress to enact legislation that achieves three main outcomes:

  1. Labels gun violence as a national public health issue.
  2. Funds appropriate research on gun violence as part of future federal budgets.
  3. Establishes constitutionally appropriate restrictions on the manufacturing and sale, for civilian use, of large-capacity magazines and firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity.

A new gun regulations bill

The AOA and its affiliates have continued to be advocates in addressing gun violence. On April 21, 2021, the AOA and five other physician organizations who represent the nation’s frontline physicians who provide the majority of primary care to our nation’s patients issued a joint statement that called on the Biden-Harris administration to continue its investment in gun violence research. On June 1, 2022, the American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians (ACOP) made a call to action for common-sense gun regulation.

On June 25, 2022, President Biden signed into law the first gun regulation bill in nearly 30 years. According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of both Republicans and Democrats support it. So, while Republicans and Democrats do differ in views of the new gun law in many ways, the law did receive bipartisan Congressional support.

On July 8, 2022, ACOP published a comment on the new gun violence bill, stating that they “fully support the effort to increase funding for mental health resources, investigating ways to make schools safer, and the implementation of so-called ‘red flag’ laws to protect those who are deemed a danger to themselves or to others.”

The Dickey Amendment

In line with AOA policy on gun violence legislation, advocates can call for the repeal of the Dickey Amendment. Passed by Congress in 1996, the Dickey Amendment stipulates that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” According to the Association of Pediatric Program Directors (APPD), “the amendment was introduced after NRA lobbying in response to a 1993 CDC-funded study that showed that guns in the home were associated with an increased risk of homicide in the home.”

In October 2015, an attempt led by Democrats in the House to remove the amendment failed, as it did not have the needed Republican support, and in 2016, then AOA President John W. Becher, DO echoed the call for Congress to fund Centers for Disease Control research into the causes and prevention of gun violence.

According to a 2017 JAMA article, gun violence has been “the least researched cause of death and the second least funded cause of death after falls.”

What can you do?

The Dickey Amendment is still in place, and the need to advocate for its repeal still exists. Osteopathic medical students and physicians alike can send letters and make calls to their legislators asking for them to repeal the Dickey Amendment.

While there are undoubtedly many differing views on how to address gun violence in America, the medical profession as a whole has always supported evidence-based medicine developed via thorough and unbiased research. What to do after the CDC is able to conduct that research is a discussion I look forward to being able to have.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

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