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Bioethicist: Why Are Guns a Taboo Topic on Campaign Trail?

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Guns are a medical issue — no matter how often the NRA denies it. Eight national health groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, just released a joint statement echoing that sentiment.

But among the barrage of media questions leveled at politicians on the presidential campaign trail, no one is asking the contenders about firearms. The topic appears to be strangely and entirely off limits.

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Everything else seems to be fair game: Do you think President Obama loves this country? What do you think about vaccines? Do you believe in evolution? Did you embellish anything on your resume? Do embryos have rights? Are you too old, fat, short, ill-tempered, religious, atheistic, feminist, or in the pocket of your donors to make a good President?

The lone question we’re not hearing: What are you going to do about gun violence?

This is especially incredible in light of the remarkable editorial published Tuesday in the prestigious medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The editorial’s co-authors are: the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Surgeons, and the American Psychiatric Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American Bar Association.

I have rarely seen such a respected group of organizations concerned about health and individual rights reach this sort of consensus about anything.

What do they call for? Gun safety. Pure and simple.

They note that, each year, more than 32,000 Americans die as a result of firearm-related violence, suicides and accidents involving guns. Firearms are the second-leading cause of death due to injury after motor vehicle crashes for adults and adolescents. The number of nonfatal firearm injuries is double the number of deaths. And while mass shootings grab the headlines, there are 88 deaths everyday involving firearm-related homicides, suicides, and accidents

The groups are not attacking the right to own a gun.

What they want to do is promote gun safety. Everyone who owns a gun — and everyone who does not — should be in favor of that.

What do these leading doctors and lawyers urge be done, changed or enacted?

  • Criminal background checks for all firearm purchases, including sales by gun dealers, at gun shows, and all private sales between individuals.
  • Better access to mental health care and earlier identification, intervention, and treatment of mental and substance use disorders.
  • Restrictions for civilian use on the manufacture and sale of large-capacity magazines and firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity.
  • And end to laws that forbid physicians from discussing a patient's gun ownership.

When doctors and lawyers agree on anything there must be a ton of merit to the ideas.

In this case, there is merit — because all of these steps are sensible. None of the suggestions represent huge intrusion on the right to own a gun. If enacted, they will reduce the chance of you or your children dying or being injured by a gun.

So, let's push past the questions of whether the candidate loves dogs or cats, the Cowboys or the Giants, tea or coffee and get to something that really really matters: Where do the presidential aspirants stand on the simple, commonsensical proposals put forward by America’s doctors and lawyers?

A politician who won’t answer is a politician who does not deserve to be heard.

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