THOMAS A. BLEDSOE: Doctors see gun control as a health issue

Kudos to the 400 people who attempted to testify before the House Judiciary Committee recently. At least four firearm-related bills are under consideration, and even Gov. Gina Raimondo submitted testimony describing one of the bills as “common sense.”

Fortunately for all of us, several of the bills under consideration are supported not just by common sense but by both medical science and the largest medical and public health organizations in the country. Health-care providers have made a number of proposals related to firearm safety, inspired by these organizations’ professional obligations to promote our individual and collective health and welfare.

The American College of Physicians has taken the position that firearm safety is a significant public health issue and that using science and building consensus to bring about social and legislative change are our best strategy, one that was employed successfully to encourage seatbelt use and discourage tobacco use and unintentional poisoning. The college believes that the medical profession has a special responsibility to speak out about firearm-related injuries and deaths; supports appropriate regulation of the purchase of legal firearms, consistent with the Constitution; supports a ban on civilian use of military firearms; and strongly recommends that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health study firearm-related injuries and deaths. Our hope is that science will help us work through this tense atmosphere.

In a landmark 2015 paper, eight national medical organizations issued a call to action that is relevant to bills under consideration in Rhode Island. The American Bar Association endorsed each of the interventions as constitutionally sound.

Highlights of the paper include:

¦ Closing the loophole. These organizations support requiring criminal background checks for all gun purchases. Background checks work, but 40 percent of gun sales do not require any steps to prevent those already legally prohibited from purchasing guns from making those purchases. This must change.

¦ Assault weapons. These organizations call for restrictions on the sale of firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity. Such weapons represent a grave danger to the public, a point brought home every few weeks in this newspaper.

¦ Need for research. Being driven by professional obligations and science, we advocate strongly more research into both the causes and consequences of firearm violence. Even advocates for personal liberties should be given the opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of their proposals to reduce the public burden of both intentional and unintentional injuries related to firearm use.

As noted, the American Bar Association was a signatory, arguing that these interventions are constitutionally sound, noting that the courts have held that the Second Amendment is consistent with laws to reduce gun-related injuries. They note that the Supreme Court made clear in 2008 that the Second Amendment should not be understood as conferring a “right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever for whatever purpose.”

Among the sensible steps being proposed in Rhode Island, H-7283 seeks to prohibit firearm ownership by those convicted of a crime involving domestic violence. We know that such victims are particularly vulnerable in this area. H-7199 seeks to ban high-capacity magazines. It seems a magazine limit of 10 or fewer rounds would not be too onerous for our collective health and welfare.

Finally, H-7243 would only allow the carrying of firearms in our local schools by restricted categories of individuals. Individuals who carry firearms for sport or for their own protection would have a hard time making a case for either on school grounds. Leaving the firearm properly secured in the vehicle or at home when going to the school play or spelling bee seems a reasonable request.

This year we have the opportunity to adopt measures that are constitutionally sound and designed to protect our family members, our neighbors, and our children. Contact your legislators today to signify your support for these measures. Your health depends on it!

— Thomas A. Bledsoe, M.D., is a clinical associate professor of medicine at Brown University, teaching medical practice and medical ethics. He is also regent-elect of the American College of Physicians.

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