When Americans are asked to rank the professions they most respect, it’s not even close. Doctors regularly outpace other estimable jobs, including firefighters, military officers, nurses and engineers. In one poll, 90 percent of those surveyed said they hold physicians in high esteem. The next closest: scientists, who finished with 83 percent.
The nation’s physicians shouldn’t just sit on that deep reservoir of goodwill. They should put it to good use. A profession that commands that much respect can be a game-changer when it enters the debate on important issues, especially when the health and well-being of their patients is at stake.
That is why the American Medical Association (AMA) merits praise for its forceful new advocacy on gun control. The nation’s largest and most influential organization of doctors accurately dubbed gun violence a “public health crisis” in 2016 and has previously championed measures to prevent it.
But the group took this important work to the next level at its annual meeting earlier this month. Delegates overwhelmingly approved a policy platform that backs more muscular measures to prevent shootings. The AMA’s official positions now include:
• Raising the minimum age for buying all firearms from 18 to 21.
• Requiring registration for all firearms.
• A ban on “all assault-type weapons, bump stocks and related devices, high capacity magazines and armor piercing bullets.”
• Opposing a federal bill that would “allow citizens with concealed carry permits in one state to carry guns into states that have stricter laws.”
• Making schools “gun-free zones,” with exceptions for law enforcement.
• Backing measures that would allow court petitions to remove firearms from people considered “high or imminent risk for violence.”
• Expanding domestic-violence restraining order protections to include those in dating relationships. A loophole in federal law excludes this.
The platform passed by a vote of 446 to 99. The group’s stronger new stance is entirely appropriate. The AMA declared gun violence a public health crisis after the 2016 shooting at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub. The carnage has continued unabated, as evidenced by mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nev., and Parkland, Fla. within the past year.
Doctors also have more than earned their right to speak out. They are the ones who stop the bleeding and stitch bodies back together, and when that fails, declare a time of death and deliver the tragic news to a waiting family.
Minnesota’s doctors deserve credit for their advocacy on this issue as well. Earlier this month, the Minnesota Medical Association (MMA) sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation, calling for “common-sense policy changes that will promote responsible firearm ownership.” Their voice is a welcome and trusted addition to a bitter debate.
The AMA’s stronger policies have generated predictable criticism from gun-control opponents. At the state level, the MMA has had “a few” drop their membership. But in choosing to wield their influence, the nation’s doctors are standing up for their patients and asserting medicine’s rightful role in improving community health.
If our doctors say these policy prescriptions are critical, then we Americans ought to heed them the same way we would when providers recommend treatments for serious medical conditions.