June 20, 2001 (Chicago) -- The new president of the nation's largest doctor group took to the bully pulpit Wednesday against gun violence, issuing a critique of the firearms industry and a forceful call to reduce deaths and injuries from guns.
American Medical Association President-elect Richard Corlin, MD, speaking at the group's annual meeting, called on Congress to restore funding for a federal program that had helped states track gun-related deaths and injuries.
"We're here to cure an epidemic," he said.
But Corlin said that the doctors were not advocating gun control. "What we don't know about violence -- and guns -- is literally killing us. And yet, very little is spent on researching gun-related injuries and deaths."
Pressure from the gun lobby eventually led to divestment from the CDC's $2.6 million program that tracked gun violence. According to Corlin, however, "That data would define the very public health crisis that these powerful interests don't want acknowledged."
He said that collecting gun death and injury data could give crucial answers on how kids get guns, whether trigger locks work, how to reduce accidental gun injuries, and how to figure out the warning signs of workplace and school shootings.
According to Corlin, gun injuries cost the nation $2.3 billion in medical costs each year. "No other consumer industry in the United States -- not even the tobacco industry -- has been allowed to so totally evade accountability for the harm their products cause to human beings."
With the AMA struggling to keep doctors as members, some of the association members are nervous that Corlin's call could invite criticism and turn off some physicians who are gun supporters. He said, "People have told me that this is a dangerous path to follow, that I am putting our organization in jeopardy."
In 1998, more than 30,000 Americans died by gunfire, and more than 64,000 were treated in emergency rooms for gun injuries. That year, by contrast, just 1,164 Germans and 1,034 Canadians were killed by guns.
Corlin appeared with Chicago police commissioner Terry Hillard, who pledged support for the AMA's initiative. According to Hillard, guns accounted for 470, or 75%, of all Chicago homicides last year.
Gunfire kills 10 children a day in this country, Corlin noted. "If this was a virus, or a defective car seat, or an undercooked hamburger killing our children, there would be a massive uproar within a week." Unfortunately, he said, the sheer amount of gun violence has numbed our sensitivity to it.
Just this week, for example, an 11-year-old Georgia boy was shot to death after he and a 10-year-old friend found a pistol while playing alone in the boy's father's house. And in Idaho, police shot and injured a 13-year-old boy after the youth pointed a gun and fired at them.
Corlin also took issue with violent "shoot-to-kill" video games such as "Blood Bath," "Psycho Toxic," "Redneck Rampage," and "Soldier of Fortune". He argued, "We let [children] be trained as shooters at an age when they have not yet developed their impulse control ... [and] they do this in an environment in which violence has no consequences."
Corlin insisted the AMA wouldn't be drawn into the gun control debate, saying that the doctors had no interest in abolishing or amending the Constitution's Second Amendment, which grants the right to bear arms.
The AMA, the nation's oldest physician organization, also has no plans to recommend that doctors ask their patients if they have guns.