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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Guns a health issue? Not to the NRA.

How dare American physicians speak up about the mortal safety of their patients.

Handguns are on display at the NRA convention

Handguns are on display at the NRA convention in Dallas in May. Photo Credit: AP / Sue Ogrocki

The National Rifle Association started an outcry when it tweeted, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane” on Nov. 7. But will it also start a trend?

If this strategy works, surely it will be only a matter of time before football coaches tell doctors to “stay in their lane” when it comes to rules preventing head injuries, and chemical companies decry doc demands that laws require their poisons be marked “poison!”

The NRA outburst came after the American College of Physicians published a position paper titled “Reducing Firearm Injuries and Deaths in the United States.” The paper acknowledges that Americans have a right to own guns, but then sets out a public health approach that it believes would cut down on firearm injuries and deaths.

The paper is mostly not very controversial. It would be far more shocking if the American College of Physicians didn’t want to see more gun restrictions and physician-led conversations about gun safety. The only way the doctors would side with looser gun regulations and fewer conversations about safety is if they were trying to pump up their gunshot treatment profits.

For the most part, the laws these doctors would like to see enacted — like universal background checks for gun purchases, training requirements for ownership, a ban on assault weapons and a ban on weapons possession or purchase for people subject to domestic violence restraining orders — are standard. Polls show most gun owners agree.

A child-access law that holds firearm owners accountable for the safety storage of guns? It seems like the sort of thing doctors ought to support.

Opposition to a national law saying anyone allowed to carry a concealed weapon in low-regulation states, which is very nearly every adult in low-regulation states, is allowed to carry that concealed weapon in all 50 states? Why is this the only issue that conservatives don’t believe states should decide? Because some of those darn states don’t want to make it easier to carry a concealed weapon than it is to vote.

Beyond that zesty “stay in their lane” tweet that got all the attention, the NRA also put out a comprehensive, elegant and mostly disingenuous response. It argued that while the paper says doctors want to “implement evidence-based policies” to reduce gun injuries and deaths, the studies the American College of Physicians actually cites are insufficient to prove its suggestions will help.

And this, really is the piece de resistance of the NRA opposition to doctors supporting changes in gun policy. The NRA has stymied any meaningful study of gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Justice for decades, blocking funding for desperately needed research on what would work to save lives. Now the NRA is attacking doctors who want to save lives for not having the evidence NRA-backed politicians wouldn’t allow let them gather.

In truth, the most important change the paper advocates is recommending doctors deal with gun ownership as a health issue, like diet, smoking and exercise. Patients need to know how dangerous it is to have unsecured guns around children, or people with dementia, for instance, and how unhealthy it is to have guns in a home where someone is depressed or in addiction.

If it cared about its members, the NRA could have endorsed these suggestions, even as it attacked the legislative ones. But the NRA, at least, is expert in staying in its own lane. It works only to maintain the best possible business climate for gun manufacturers, never veering a bit.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

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