CHICAGO -- The new president of the American Medical Association is making gun safety his platform, prompting concern that the usually cautious doctors' group is straying too far into social activism.
"What we don't know about violence -- and guns -- is literally killing us," Dr. Richard Corlin said in his inaugural speech Wednesday night at the AMA's annual meeting. "And yet, very little is spent on researching gun-related injuries and deaths."
To fight the problem, Corlin said, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "must have the budget and the authority to gather the detailed data we need."
Corlin, 60, a gastroenterologist from Santa Monica, Calif., said the AMA will lobby Congress to boost CDC funding. He also urged more research into whether gun trigger locks work, ways to reduce accidental shootings and how youngsters obtain weapons.
"For every year of life lost to gun violence, we spent only $30 on research -- less than the cost of a taxi ride here from the airport," Corlin said.
Gun-related violence has been a divisive issue for the AMA, which considers itself a leader on public health issues such as tobacco use but has been less willing to take a strong stand on more controversial issues such as the death penalty.
While violence is easy to deplore, expanding the category to include gun safety has some doctors wondering whether the AMA will be seen as opposing the right to bear arms.
Others fear Corlin's position will put the AMA in the crosshairs of the National Rifle Association, whose influence helped prompt a $2.6 million cut in CDC funding for collection of detailed statistics on gun-related injuries and deaths.
NRA research coordinator Paul Blackman said Corlin's platform is a "smoke screen" and the AMA is delving into gun control.
Dr. Robert Woolley, a Minnesota physician who belongs to both the AMA and the NRA, fears Blackman is right and said he probably will not renew his AMA membership next year.
"Nobody disputes that people dying and being injured from gunshot wounds is a terrible problem," Woolley said. "The dilemma is that groups such as the AMA ... are making very simplistic assumptions that the solution is more gun control."
The AMA is already struggling to stem a membership decline. It lost more than 3,000 members last year and more than $4 million in membership dues.
The latest national figures, from 1998, show 30,708 gun-related deaths and 64,484 gun-related injuries. Guns were the second leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States, trailing only auto accidents.
Corlin contends the AMA isn't seeking gun control and that solutions might include such things as anti-graffiti campaigns to reduce gang activity and violence.
Dr. Jack Lewin, chief executive officer of the California Medical Society, applauded Corlin for his stand.
"It's gutsy for Dr. Corlin to take this on," he said. "But given the problems America has with gun violence ... the American people will respect his policy and leadership position in this regard."
But Dr. John Bennett, a member of a pro-gun group called Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws, said he suspects that the AMA is going to seek "lopsided research."
"If they similarly put the same kind of effort into tracking crimes that are prevented by guns, I think that's fine," said Bennett, an AMA member from Sequim, Wash. Not doing so would be "like looking at a medicine to see if it's got any side effects and not considering" its benefits.
On the Net:
Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws: http://www.keepandbeararms.com
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.