Doctors tell Trump, Congress to stop blaming mental health for gun violence

A stethoscope on a computer keyboard
Medical associations are calling for action to end gun violence. (Getty/anyaberkut)

Six prominent physician groups have called on President Donald Trump and Congress to take comprehensive action to help end gun violence following last week’s mass shooting at a Florida high school.

The medical associations issued a joint statement urging government action, including labeling gun violence a national public health epidemic.

Seventeen children and adults in Parkland, Florida, were killed during the Valentine’s Day shooting. A 19-year-old former student, who was armed with an assault weapon, has been charged in the killings.

“The families of the victims in Parkland and all those whose lives have been impacted by daily acts of gun violence deserve more than our thoughts and prayers. They need action from the highest levels of our government to stop this epidemic of gun violence now,” the statement said.

The statement was signed by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Osteopathic Association.

The groups called for limits on high-powered, rapid-fire weapons and funding of gun violence research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar indicated last week that he would support the CDC conducting research into gun violence. The American Medical Association—which has called gun violence a public health crisis—said it backs Azar's commitment to the CDC researching gun violence.

The medical community is also frustrated that the Trump administration’s response to the mass shooting focuses on mental illness rather than the easy availability of guns, according to the Associated Press.

"The concept that mental illness is a precursor to violent behavior is nonsense," Louis Kraus, M.D., forensic psychiatry chief at Rush University Medical College in Chicago, told the news agency. "The vast majority of gun violence is not attributable to mental illness."

The accused shooter, Nicholas Cruz, has been described as a loner with troubling behavior who had been kicked out of the school. Trump has focused on his mental health when he addressed the shooting.

However, the need for better mental and behavioral health services was highlighted in a recent survey by NEJM Catalyst. The survey found that 51% of healthcare professionals consider their organizations' mental and behavioral health services not very adequate or not at all adequate to meet the needs of their patient population.

The survey of NEJM Catylist Insights Council members found the most pressing barriers to delivering mental and behavioral services are absent or inadequate insurance coverage (34%), fragmentation of care (33%) and lack of access to specialty care (32%).