Few moments in my experience compare with what just happened on the floor of the American Medical Association’s annual meeting of its House of Delegates:
Gun violence was front and center, and the response was loud and clear: we will do whatever it takes to lend our voice and our actions to end the epidemic.
The House of Delegates, or HOD as it is affectionately known, makes the policy for the AMA. It is—in my experience—the most democratic policy making exercise in which I have engaged over my decades of involvement with organized medicine. It hears testimony on various policy proposals, considers those proposals and reports, and accepts, rejects, modifies and/or studies those items which then become the organization’s guiding policies. And any member can contribute their voice and their thoughts to the process.
Over the past couple of years—including a number of meetings which have been held virtually—there has been a clear tilt in the direction of those discussions. More responsive to current issues, more influenced by younger delegates including medical students, residents and fellows in specialty training, it has come to reflect a much greater sensitivity to the issues facing this nation.
Meeting in Chicago over the past several days, many issues of relevance to the practice of medicine have been discussed. But none has risen to a greater level of focus than gun violence and what can be done to reduce the carnage that is gripping this nation.
From my perspective, gun violence is not a new topic. For many years I lived in Baltimore and kept seeing the statistics of young lives taken by guns on the streets. The city was impacted, the medical and legal systems were impacted, and most important the communities where my patients and families lived were impacted.
What was most damning was the fact that no one seemed to really care. Hundreds were dying, more were injured, shock trauma units were overwhelmed, lives were lost and families were shattered.
Yet the absence of genuine outcry was itself deafening by its absence. Did anyone care? Had this happened in other parts of the city perhaps there would have been an outcry. But this was confined primarily to the black community, hidden from the power structure folks. And frequently all it amounted to were small stories on the back pages of the Baltimore Sun where the weekend tallies and the names of those killed merited a small story at the bottom of a newspaper column.
And now Baltimore’s tragedy—along with other cities at the time—has become the national experience as we find ourselves gripped by gun violence. No one and no place is immune.
I don’t need to recount here the terrible events of even the past month, let alone the past year and decade. It has gotten worse and worse, and yet we as a nation don’t have a solution.
This is not about gun control. It is not about gun safety. It is about gun carnage, and it is time for all of us to understand that we must stand and be counted demanding study, research and action to stem this devastating destruction that is taking precious lives—especially precious young lives of our defenseless and vulnerable children—everywhere, including in communities where gun heritage is part of the fabric of those communities.
So why bring up the AMA?
Because today, in the AMA House of Delegates, the testimony and the discussion surrounding the topic of gun violence was extensive and passionate. The physician delegates at the AMA HOD were clearly concerned, and the tragedy of gun violence and what should be done to stem the tide was clearly top of mind.
Initially, there was a divided house: should immediate and additional action be taken? Should the Board of Trustees establish a task force to redouble their efforts to combat gun violence? What can the organization do to increase its visibility and louden its voice of authority when it comes to gun violence and its impact on the health of this nation?
As the day went on, and as testimony after testimony was offered it became obvious that the physician members of the House from every state—over 600 strong—wanted something done. No matter everything that the organization and its board said they were doing, the delegates were restive. They wanted more. They were emotional, sometimes strident, occasionally angry: the carnage has to stop. The messages were clear: We are talking about the health of the nation, and something needs to be done.
And then the board chair spoke in direct and unequivocal words, words that I believe should be shared. Words that should move all of us to understand that business as usual is no longer acceptable to the physicians of this nation, that the time has come for everyone—everyone—to take notice, to stand up and be counted.
So let me share excerpts from comments made today by Bobby Mukkamala, MD—chair of the AMA Board of Trustees—to the delegates of the AMA at their meeting in response to the concerns voiced by the physician delegates: (Emphasis his)
“For years our AMA has passed policy after policy to share our opinion with the rest of the country on measures that can be taken to reduce the tragedies that are the sequelae of gun violence.
And YET…. here we are, with a never ending and increasing news feed about the toll of gun violence on our country…
I can assure you that I and the rest of your board hear the testimony of this house loud and clear. We hear that our existing efforts have not been enough. That we need to rethink our approach to this epidemic. That we need to consider NEW options….
I am here to tell you that your board will not wait:
- Tomorrow Dr Harmon (President of the AMA) is participating in a call with the White House to share physician experiences and perspective on gun violence and recommendations for action.
- We are continuing to PUSH Congress to DOUBLE the funding for gun violence prevention and research
- We will PUSH for STRONGER action by Congress and the Administration. This includes the provisions the AMA supported Protecting Our Kids Act.
- Our AMA is LEADING efforts for physicians and nurses to intervene when patients demonstrate risk factors for gun violence
- Our AMA will amplify our work with OTHER organizations in the firearm safety and gun violence prevention space.
- And in the coming days we will reach out to LAW ENFORCEMENT and EDUCATORS to explore how we can work together to make progress in a MEANINGFUL way on this public health crisis.
We ARE the healers. We heal PEOPLE and now….we take it upon ourselves to help to heal our SOCIETY.
Your board will think out of the box on gun violence and will do everything we can within what our policy allows, and it allows a lot…to think of new ways to collaborate with others to prevent further tragedies.
Please be assured that the Board hears you on this issue LOUD AND CLEAR. WE feel what YOU feel and will get to work on this concern immediately.
What we have done has not been enough, but we can and we WILL do more…It will be convening, it will be advocating, it will be collaborating. It will be more than statements and press releases.”
Bold words describing bold actions. Words that have meaning, and that signal a genuine commitment by the nation’s leading professional organization representing physicians acknowledging that enough is enough, that the epidemic of gun violence must end and end quickly.
We are all affected by gun violence, affected when we are in our homes, our workplaces, our communities, our grocery stores, our houses of worship. No one is immune. And the nation’s doctors understand that very well. They deal with caring for the victims, trying to save lives, and even protecting their own.
I am proud that the American Medical Association has taken this strong stance, and is lending its voice and its commitment to be heard and be seen, loud, clear, firmly and unmistakably:
No more. This must stop, for the health and well-being of all.