Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Psychiatrists Must Rely on Data in Advocacy Involving Gun Control, AJP Editorial Says

President Obama was in Newtown, Conn., yesterday calling for legislative action on gun violence. "We have to tell Congress it's time to require a background check for anyone who wants to buy a gun so that people who are dangerous to themselves and others cannot get their hands on a gun,” Obama said, according to news reports. “We have to tell Congress it's time to restore the ban on military-style assault weapons, and a 10-round limit for magazines, to make it harder for a gunman to fire 154 bullets into his victims in less than five minutes. We have to tell Congress it's time to strengthen school safety and help people struggling with mental health problems get the treatment they need before it's too late.”

In a March 20 editorial in AJP in Advance, American Journal of Psychiatry Deputy Editor Robert Michels, M.D., and Richard Friedman, M.D., discussed the complexities surrounding professional psychiatric advocacy for gun control, lowering the threshold for involuntary commitment, and other issues related to gun violence. "Many of us have passionate advocacy positions on socially charged issues like gun control, positions that may or may not be supported by empirical data,” they said. “When we enter public discourse as psychiatric experts, we have to remember to distinguish between our professional knowledge and expertise on the one hand and our personal advocacy positions on the other. Our primary role as psychiatric experts in public discussions about the controversial links between guns, violence, and mental illness should be to educate the public and to provide public officials with the best available data and critical thinking to help inform the dialogue and the decision making that drive public policy."

The editorial, "How Should the Psychiatric Profession Respond to the Recent Mass Killings?" is online here. For more on this subject see Psychiatric News here.

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