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Calling Gun Violence a Public Health Epidemic, Nation's Doctors Call for Assault Weapons Ban

"Did we mute our opposition to smoking, because Big Tobacco defended it? No, we let the science lead us...The AMA must not back down from addressing gun violence."

Staff in the Trauma Unit at Chicago's John H. Stroger Jr. Cook County Hospital treat a man who was brought in with a gunshot wound. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The nation's largest physicians' group announced this week its endorsement of a ban on assault weapons in the latest sign that bold gun-control proposals are gaining widespread support at the urging of young Americans and the #NeverAgain movement.

Dr. David Barbe, outgoing president of the American Medical Association (AMA), framed the issue as one in which statistics and science, with 36,000 Americans dying from gun violence every year, is on the group's side.

"We as physicians are the witnesses to the human toll of this disease." —Dr. Megan Ranney, emergency-medicine physician

"Did we mute our opposition to smoking, because Big Tobacco defended it? No, we let the science lead us," said Barbe. "Similarly, I would submit to you that the AMA must not back down from addressing gun violence."

At a meeting of its House of Delegates, the AMA overwhelmingly voted in support of officially calling for a ban on semi-automatic military-style weapons like the AR-15, which has been used in several of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. in recent years. The vote was 446 to 99, with doctors speaking out about their personal experiences treating patients with gunshot wounds.

"We as physicians are the witnesses to the human toll of this disease," Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency-medicine physician, said at the meeting.

The AMA also endorsed other gun control reforms including a ban on gun and ammunition purchases for Americans under the age of 21 and laws that would allow for the court-ordered removal of a gun from a home if a household member shows signs of violence. The group voted to oppose any legislation that would arm teachers and to advocate for schools to remain gun-free zones.

The meeting came four months after a nationwide mobilization began among American teenagers and their supporters, who sprang to action after 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida—also joining groups like Black Lives Matter in who have called attention to gun violence in communities of color.

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Gun control advocates lauded the AMA for its endorsement and the vital perspective the group offers—that of healthcare providers who see firsthand the destruction caused by easy access to firearms.

Barbe expressed hope that legislators would take heed of the influential group's call for wide-reaching reforms, and break free from the National Rifle Association's (NRA) grip on Washington—which has funneled millions of dollars into the coffers of lawmakers who have refused in recent years to back gun control measures.

"It has been frustrating that we have seen so little action from either state or federal legislators," Barbe said. "The most important audience for our message right now is our legislators, and second most important is the public, because sometimes it requires public pressure on the legislators."

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