Physician-Led Group Looks to Drive Best Practice on Firearms Risk

By Danielle DiCenzo, MMS Public Health Intern

Physicians seeking to drive research into gun violence have founded an apolitical organization to inform evidence-based, best practice recommendations for health care providers. Currently, clinicians lack guidance and options if they consider a patient at risk of gun-related self-harm or violence toward others.

“There’s nothing political about firearm risk,” says Chris Barsotti, MD, executive director of the new organization, the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM). “We want to normalize conversation on what relates to the interest of our patients and communities. The country is particularly polarized: they think gun rights or gun control. We’re focusing on gun safety.”

The CDC estimates over 33,000 annual deaths are attributable to gun violence, including homicides, suicides, and accidents. But the political environment around guns is such that, since 1996, the CDC has not funded gun violence–related research.

In October, the MMS Board of Trustees voted to support the mission and goals of AFFIRM. This is a preparedness issue, says John Burress, MD, MPH, chair of the MMS Committee on Public Health. “When there’s a moratorium on researching such an important public health matter, physicians are often left in a void without clear standards of care.”

“The driver here is to create a public health approach that has multiple facets to it, like how we address opiates or concussions,” says Dr. Barsotti, who also chairs the Trauma and Injury Prevention Section at the American College of Emergency Physicians. The AFFIRM approach supports research that informs best practice and educates patients, their families, and communities.

“With any medical issue, we look at risk factors and we try to mitigate them. In the ER, we see patients we know are at high risk for harming themselves or others, but there are no guidelines,” says Dr. Barsotti. “What interventions have been shown to be effective? AFFIRM is about enabling ourselves to address the problem.”

Gunshot Illustration

Kaula, William J., “Teaching watercolors of early appearances of entry and exit gunshot wounds,” 1894. Courtesy of Warren Anatomical Museum in the Francis. A. Countway Library of Medicine

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