Medical societies back assault weapons ban

A Senate bill would prohibit military-style guns and high-capacity ammunition magazines, but the legislation faces steep opposition from Second Amendment proponents.

By Charles Fiegl amednews staff — Posted Feb. 11, 2013

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Citing the devastating impact of gun violence on American public health, the American Medical Association and other organizations representing physician specialists expressed support for proposed legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

The AMA, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists were among the groups that wrote letters backing a bill to implement a stricter version of an assault weapons ban that had expired in 2004. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D, Calif.) introduced the legislation on Jan. 24 with support from Democratic colleagues, but the bill has run into strong opposition from congressional Republicans and advocates for gun rights.

The legislation calls for prohibiting the manufacture, sale, transfer and import of 157 military-style assault weapons. The ban includes guns that can accept detachable ammunition magazines and that have one or more military characteristics, such as pistol grips or telescoping features. Magazines, strips and drums holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition also would be banned.

The bill excludes 2,200 hunting and sporting rifles as well as any gun that is operated manually by a bolt, pump, lever or slide action, according to Feinstein’s office. Weapons used by military and law enforcement personnel also would be exempt from the restrictions.

“We should be outraged by how easy it is for perpetrators of these horrific crimes to obtain powerful, military-style weapons,” Feinstein said during a Jan. 24 news conference to discuss the bill.

Physicians have seen the devastating effects of gun violence and believe it is a serious public health issue, the AMA stated in a Jan. 29 letter. Many physicians compare gun violence to other public health problems in society, such as drunken driving. Doctors are on the front lines treating trauma victims and now have called for tougher prevention measures, the Association said.

“The increased firepower of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines heightens the risk of multiple gunshot wounds and severe penetrating trauma, resulting in more critical injuries,” the AMA letter stated. “The severity of wounds and multiple casualties resulting from assault weapons have devastating consequences for families and society.”

Focus on threat to women, children

The American Academy of Pediatrics long has supported gun-safety programs and supports a ban on assault weapons, said AAP President Thomas K. McInerny, MD. The academy sent a letter supporting the bill and noted that the presence of guns increases children’s risk of injury and death. Pediatricians also have recommended policy supporting mandatory background checks for gun buyers and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

“Firearm-related deaths are one of the top three causes of death in American youth,” Dr. McInerny said. “Reducing this threat to children requires a complex and persistent national response. Sen. Feinstein’s bill takes an important, vital step toward making children safer.”

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists sent a Jan. 23 letter in support of the assault weapons ban, noting the link between access to guns and increased incidents of assault on women. For instance, women are twice as likely to be shot and killed by intimate partners as they are to be murdered by strangers using any type of weapon, according to ACOG.

The American College of Surgeons has not taken a position on the Feinstein bill, but the organization has supported legislation banning civilian access to assault weapons and large ammunition clips designed for military and law enforcement agencies, said ACS President A. Brent Eastman, MD, the N. Paul Whittier Chair of Trauma at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif. The organization plans to increase education about gun violence and solicit policy feedback from surgeons. The group also wants research on firearm injuries to receive funding.

The Senate legislation faces opposition from Republicans and groups advocating for the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Too many politicians pursue aggressive gun control agendas following tragedies like the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, said Sen. Ted Cruz (R, Texas).

“Gun control doesn’t work — the empirical data overwhelmingly demonstrate that strict gun-control laws consistently produce more crime and more murders,” he said.

The National Rifle Assn. said in a statement that the Feinstein legislation bans law-abiding citizens from purchasing guns. “It’s disappointing but not surprising that she is once again focused on curtailing the Constitution instead of prosecuting criminals or fixing our broken mental health system,” the NRA said.

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