The latest gun control dust-up is not between the Bloomberg-funded “Everytown for Gun Safety” and the National Rifle Association; nor is it an argument between law enforcement groups on opposing sides of the issue.
The most recent and ongoing dispute between Second Amendment supporters and gun control advocates pits the NRA against doctors.
Shortly before the November 6 mid-term elections (from which candidates on both sides of the gun-control debate can claim victories), the NRA rebuked the American College of Physicians (ACP) for the organization’s continuing advocacy of gun-control legislation having nothing directly to do with the practice of medicine.
In response, physicians associated with the ACP, along with some doctors not directly related to that group, engaged the gun-rights association in a Twitter war. The battle centered on the question of whether physicians should use their platform as medical professionals to press for political policy changes rather than to improve doctors’ ability to treat victims of gun violence.
Physicians, just like members of any other profession, are certainly free to express their views on firearms-related issues or any other matter falling within the broad parameters of public policy. That some physicians have determined to do so as doctors — using the platforms available to them as doctors to advocate for gun control measures — is not a new phenomenon.
Almost a quarter century ago, in 1995, the “Annuals of Internal Medicine” (the flagship publication of the ACP) declared that “firearm violence” was a “public health imperative” that had reached “epidemic proportions” and therefore measures to limit access to firearms through legislation was an appropriate responsibility of physicians qua physicians.
The ACP has continued and even accelerated its drive to enact gun control legislation. In fact, its webpage highlights gun violence as among the most important issues with which it is concerned.
That webpage prominently displays a red icon labeled, “Firearms and Health”; it is the only “collection” of ACP publications to which visitors to the page are directed. A click on that icon will reveal to the visitor some 60 different publications on the topic.
The publications, which comprise ACP’s current and publicly available collection of gun control writings, include topics that are standard fare for gun control advocates: unfavorably comparing rates of firearm violence in America to other countries, the need for broader and stronger background checks, public opinion surveys supporting gun control measures, the gun show “loophole,” the dangers of having firearms in homes and more.
Recently, of course, the ACP has jumped on the bandwagon of those calling for a ban on so-called “3-D firearms.”
Beyond this compilation of the “usual suspects,” however, the ACP has positioned itself firmly on the far extreme of gun control, favoring measures such as the “prohibition of handgun ownership by private citizens.”
It has advocated also for measures that qualify it for derision, such as a federal ban on plastic (as in “toy”) guns.
It is such fringe advocacy that undercuts the credibility of the ACP, which is supposed to be an organization representing and assisting internal medicine doctors in their practices. But it was the group’s loose use of “studies” and other statistical “evidence” in support of its gun control advocacy, that recently caught the eye of the NRA.
The gun-rights organization blasted the ACP for deploying its physician-supported resources to press federal and state legislators for ever-increasing limitations on individual possession of firearms, based on faulty analysis.
The APC is not alone in using its resources to advocate for not connected to its core mission. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has for decades tried, sometimes successfully, to interject itself into the gun control debate, by declaring that gun control is a matter within the organization’s jurisdiction over the control of diseases.
Republican-controlled Congresses have in recent years stopped the CDC from using taxpayer funds to involve itself in gun control efforts.
It is a virtual certainty, however, that the House, soon-to-be under Democrat Party control, will remove such prohibitory language in CDC’s appropriated funding. It is not clear that the Senate, which remains under GOP control, will go along with such a measure.
What is certain is that come January, Speaker Pelosi and her Democrat majority will be a far more receptive audience to extreme gun-control advocacy groups like the ACP; a situation that unfortunately will continue to blur the line between the practice of medicine and the practice of gun control.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. The views expressed here are his own.