“As physicians,” she wrote, “we have the opportunity to educate our patients about the risks of keeping guns in the home particularly in the presence of children, adolescents, people with dementia, people with mental illnesses, including substance use disorders, who are at risk of harming themselves or others, and people who abuse children or partners. Currently, a number of states prevent physicians from asking questions about guns. This needs to be changed.”
Among the measures that APA supports are background checks and waiting periods before gun purchases, closing gun-show loopholes, product safety regulations, safe storage requirements, and gun-free college campuses and hospitals. Also, Binder noted that temporary firearm restraining orders could be one way to protect potential victims of these tragedies—family members and/or law enforcement could go before a judge and request that guns be temporarily removed from an individual who is likely to be dangerous toward himself and/or others.
To those who want to connect gun violence with mental illness, Binder emphasized that people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence and that the majority of individuals with mental illness will never be violent toward others; the risk of self-harm is far greater. “Stronger indicators of risk include a history of violent behavior, domestic violence, and drug or alcohol abuse” she noted. “We urge states to develop new procedures for the temporary removal of access to guns during periods of elevated risk.”
Echoing President Obama in his address to the nation on Thursday, Binder said, “Our hopes and prayers will not be enough to stem the tide of gun violence in our country. We need decisive action in favor of responsible gun regulation. Until then, gun violence remains a significant threat to America’s public health, and as physicians, we have a vital role in advocating for change.”
For information on the response of the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association to the tragedy, see yesterday’s Psychiatric News Alert.