The American Medical Association (AMA) on Tuesday pushed for a ban on assault weapons, amid demands from its membership of doctors that the organization take a stand against gun violence.
The move comes months after the mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February that killed 17 people and elevated the national conversation around gun control. But despite dozens of mass shootings since then, Congress has done little to address gun violence.
Congressional inaction has left schools and local lawmakers scrambling, with countless school districts approving policies such as backpack bans and distributing bulletproof backpacks. Several school boards across the country have considered or adopted proposals to arm school staff and teachers.
At the organization’s annual policymaking meeting, AMA delegates voted 446-99 to support the ban on assault weapons.
They also voted to ban purchase or possession of guns and ammunition by individuals under the age of 21; to support any laws requiring licensing and training for gun owners; to push for legislation that would allow relatives of those with suicidal or violent tendencies to seek court-ordered removal of guns in the home; and to support keeping schools gun-free. The organization also approved initiatives to call for better training of physicians in recognizing symptoms of those at risk for suicide and to eliminate loopholes in laws that allow people guilty of domestic violence or harassment to purchase guns.
“It has been frustrating that we have seen so little action from either state or federal legislators,” said David Barbe, a doctor and former AMA president, according to the Associated Press. 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.”
The AMA has, in the past, supported proposals to ban assault weapons and called gun violence a public health crisis in 2016. But in its effort to influence lawmakers, the organization is up against the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), which has blocked research on gun violence for years, stifling efforts to determine what practices could work to prevent deaths. The result has been a legislative body that is uninformed about the dangers of gun violence.
Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than 36,000 people died as a result of gun-related deaths in 2015. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, the bulk of those deaths — 62 percent — are suicides, making gun violence one of the United States’ leading causes of death, behind diabetes and the flu.
“The fact that this problem continues to worsen has spurred a new sense of urgency,” Barbe said at the AMA meeting. “Have we backed away from our support of universal vaccinations or gains made through the Affordable Care Act because they are controversial? No, we let the science lead us.”