The Massachusetts Medical Society has approved a policy on gun violence it says was spurred by last December’s mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. According to Doctor David Norton, the policy adopted at the Medical Society’s annual meeting in Boston over the weekend is not new. But he says the events in Newtown prompted the organization to re-evaluate previous gun violence policies as more than just an issue of public safety.
“Gun violence is one of the leading causes of death in youth. 1 in 25 admissions to pediatric trauma centers in the US is related to gunshot wounds. So it’s very much a health issue and a safety issue.”
Norton, a pediatrician based in Holyoke and South Hadley and an advisor to the Society’s Public Health Committee, says the policy reaffirms doctors’ rights to talk to their patients about gun safety and violence as part of routine medical examinations.
“When they come in for a well visit, we always ask whether there’s guns in the home. If there are, if they are…appropriately locked up, not loaded, if the ammunition is kept separately. We encourage families to ask about where their children go to play, whether there are guns in those homes and how they’re stored…and not to be afraid to ask other families those questions.”
Norton says there have been attempts to limit or prevent doctors from asking such questions. In 2011, a Florida law was enacted but then quickly struck down that would have done just that. Supporters argued that asking questions was an invasion of their privacy. Norton says the policy also advocates a stronger effort through the American Medical Association to make federal licensing and background checks mandatory for all gun sales.