Massachusetts Medical Society: The MMS Raises the Physician Voice for Firearm Safety and Gun Violence Prevention

The MMS Raises the Physician Voice for Firearm Safety and Gun Violence Prevention

Gun Safety illustration
Illustration by Chris Twichell

The horror and tragedy of senseless, but increasingly familiar, mass shootings shake us to our core and are widely shared across media. Yet, the day-to-day fatal and nonfatal shootings and gun suicides taking place throughout Massachusetts also deserve our attention and action. In an average year, 109 people in the state die by gun homicide and 271 are wounded by gun assaults — a rate of 1.6 homicides and 3.9 assaults per 100,000 people. An additional 143 people die by suicide using a firearm each year.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s April report, Americans’ Experiences with Gun-Related Violence, Injuries, and Deaths, noted that one in five adults was threatened with or had family killed by a gun, including suicide. One in six witnessed someone being shot. Yet only one in seven adults surveyed said that a health care provider had inquired about guns in the home, and just a quarter said that their pediatrician had done so.

The MMS has a long and strong history of advocacy regarding firearm safety and gun violence prevention. But in the face of current civilian carnage due to firearms, we as physicians have an opportunity to proactively deter gun violence by focusing on evidence-based measures to advise educational, policy, and advocacy efforts. Physician involvement underscores that gun violence is a public health crisis and of crucial importance to physicians.

The heartbreak of the elementary school mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May 2022 cemented the determination of the Society to make real change to limit danger from firearm injury and death for patients in Massachusetts and across the United States. Outgoing MMS president Theodore A. Calianos II, MD, FACS, began his term that month, expecting to focus on returning to pre-pandemic priorities. The Uvalde shooting shifted his focus.

Organizing an MMS Gun Violence Prevention Initiative

“The first statement of my presidency was on the Uvalde, Texas, shooting — this event influenced the course of my presidency,” says Dr. Calianos. “As a medical society, we must continue to advocate for substantial and sensible changes to stem the public health crisis of gun violence in our country. Gun violence is now the leading cause of death in the United States for children and teens. Change must happen. This must end. It is our duty as physicians to drive the initiatives needed to address this scourge.”

By September, a resolute cadre of physicians with expertise in the subject agreed to serve on a newly established MMS Firearm Safety and Gun Violence Prevention Advisory Group. Physicians Christopher Barsotti, Eric Goralnick, Michael Hirsh, Thea James, Megan Ranney, and Chana Sacks have offered recommendations and direction to the MMS Officers regarding outreach, education, legislative action, and community involvement to promote gun safety in the state, on the federal policy level, and to physicians throughout the country through the American Medical Association.

Educating Physicians on Patient Screening and Risk

To educate physicians in Massachusetts and beyond, the MMS has created a new, free educational webinar, “Firearms: Screening, Suicide Prevention, Community Engagement.” It offers tools and suggestions for routine screening of patients regarding guns in the home (particularly in primary care) and the specific contexts and circumstances of each patient to consider and address when screening.

Although the majority of firearm owners do not commit gun violence, physicians can play an essential role in identifying and helping individuals who may be at risk of harming themselves or others. The MMS is collaborating with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office to update handouts for patients on gun safety and other materials for physicians to be knowledgeable about the topic. The revisions will include new information about the state’s Extreme Risk Protection Order, also known as the “red flag” law.

Advocating to Contain Gun Violence

The Society is working at the state and national levels for the adoption of substantive firearm safety measures to further combat gun violence. Federal legislative advocacy has included a statement of support for Senator Warren’s (D-MA) December 2022 reintroduction of the Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safety Act. We will continue to advocate at the federal level for evidence-based laws regarding firearm safety.

Here in Massachusetts last March, Dr. Calianos, representing the MMS, met with Representative Marjorie Decker, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. They discussed various firearm bills before the legislature, the MMS’s commitment to the topic, and ways for physicians to become more engaged. For example, proposed legislation prohibiting 3-D printed and ghost guns aligns with MMS policy created over the past decade, which positions the Medical Society to advocate for the proposed bill.

Engaging with Stakeholders for Gun Buyback Programs

Engaging with stakeholders across communities — patients, gun owners, victims, and perpetrators — and supporting organizations addressing the cause and effect of gun violence is vital. Gun buyback programs are one such path. These typically offer gun locks or gift cards in exchange for a no-questions-asked opportunity to turn in guns and ammunition. The city of Worcester already has such a program.

Physician partnerships with local law enforcement and district attorneys on gun buybacks emphasize that gun violence is a public health crisis. While the MMS reaches out to create a statewide gun buyback program, the Society, with input from an Advisory Group member, is developing a primer, using Worcester’s experience, on how to establish a buyback program in a town, city, or district.

Standing with Local Communities

Furthering community engagement and with the encouragement of the Advisory Group, the MMS formed a team to support the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute’s Mother’s Day Walk for Peace, founded by the parents of a teenage boy who was murdered in a crossfire shooting as he walked to a Teens Against Gang Violence meeting. The MMS Walking Team included Society officers, members, and staff and raised funds for the Institute’s work. Importantly, it was an opportunity to walk with and show solidarity with mothers, family members, and loved ones impacted by firearm morbidity and mortality.

There is much more to be done. The MMS will continue to advocate for significant change in addressing firearm safety and gun violence prevention methods for everyone.

Get Involved

  • The MMS Committee on Violence Intervention and Prevention urges your participation in the nationwide Wear Orange weekend, June 2–4, to call attention to ending gun violence.
  • Find more resources at
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