Uncontrolled gun ownership is a serious threat to public health — and Congress needs to pay for research on the hot-button issue, the American Medical Association said Tuesday.
Two days after 49 people were shot to death at an Orlando nightclub, the influential doctors' body voted to declare gun violence a public health issue and pledged to start lobbying Washington lawmakers.
"With approximately 30,000 men, women and children dying each year at the barrel of a gun in elementary schools, movie theaters, workplaces, houses of worship and on live television, the United States faces a public health crisis of gun violence," AMA President Dr. Steven Stack said in a statement.
The vote brings the AMA, which represents about a quarter-million U.S. doctors, in line with other medical groups. The American Academy of Pediatrics has taken on the gun lobby, saying doctors must play a larger role in fighting gun violence.
The White House and public health experts say gun research should be no different from the work that led to seat belt laws.
But Congress has blocked federal health agencies from the researching — or even paying for the research of — gun violence since the 1990s. President Barack Obama directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to pay for and undertake gun safety research, but Congress sent a clear message by appropriating no money for the CDC to do so.
"Even as America faces a crisis unrivaled in any other developed country, the Congress prohibits the CDC from conducting the very research that would help us understand the problems associated with gun violence and determine how to reduce the high rate of firearm-related deaths and injuries," Stack said.
"An epidemiological analysis of gun violence is vital so physicians and other health providers, law enforcement and society at large may be able to prevent injury, death and other harms to society resulting from firearms," he added.
The AMA said in 2013 that "uncontrolled ownership and use of firearms, especially handguns, is a serious threat to the public's health."
It has supported requiring background checks for all handgun purchasers and stricter enforcement of existing federal and state gun safety legislation.
Privately funded researchers have found police officers are most likely to be killed in states where the most people own guns, that mass killings inspire copycats and that states with the strictest gun laws have the fewest gun deaths.