The American College of Physicians (ACP), whose members are tired of picking the bullets out of victims of gun violence has published a set of recommendations on how to tackle the problem. Predictably, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and conservative commentators were outraged, telling them to “stay in their lane.” Obvious to everyone except their critics, doctors have responded by explaining why their expertise on the topic matters – and their message is devastating.
In October the Health and Public Policy Committee of the ACP published a paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine on what can be done to reduce deaths and injuries from guns. As the paper notes, the ACP has advocated similar policies for 20 years, but these recommendations “build on, strengthen and expand” the 2014 version.
Most of what the paper proposes has wide support, even in the United States. Policies such as “Sales of firearms should be subject to satisfactory completion of a criminal background check and proof of satisfactory completion of an appropriate educational program on firearms safety,” consistently poll well, even among people who consider themselves “pro-gun”. Similarly, most people are fairly happy about the ACP's position that domestic violence offenders and convicted felons should have their access to guns restricted.
This support, however, has not extended to most state and national legislators. The new Congress has a lot more gun control advocates in the House, but the prospects for reform in the Senate, or of winning presidential approval, are bleak.
However, when the NRA noticed, it probably didn't do itself any favors with its response.
The NRA website also referred to contributing to debate on gun policy as a “hobby” for doctors.
Twitter lit up with responses tagged #ItsOurLane, all of them angry and many of them heartrending.
A more detailed response was provided by the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine
The ACP represents more than 150,000 doctors, making it the largest medical specialty organization in America. Its previous proposals have also been endorsed by seven other bodies of specialist doctors.
The supreme irony of the NRA's position is that if the lane of preventing gun violence isn't for the doctors who clean up the mess, it ought to belong to people who study its causes and the effectiveness of controls. However, legislation pushed by the NRA itself bans federal funding for research on the topic.
When the research is funded philanthropically or by governments that don't have these restrictions, it consistently backs up the ACP's conclusions, or even goes further, such as a recent study confirming the effectiveness of Australia's far more drastic gun laws.
The same edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine also has a paper on how Americans misperceive the different forms of threats guns pose. A better understanding of the real dangers could lead to reduced loss of life. It seems, however, the authors of this and similar research are not among those the NRA think the ACP should have consulted.
Unsurprisingly, right-wing commentator Ann Coulter poured petrol on the fire, and got the inevitable response.