Obama pledges funding for gun violence research, freedom for doctors talking about gun safety

In addition to introducing programs aimed at strengthening mental health care, President Obama said Wednesday that he would clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors from talking with their patients about gun safety and guns kept in their home. He also pledged to direct the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence, calling it “a public health crisis.”

The Washington Post reported last month that the National Rifle Association had quietly pushed for language included in the federal health law stipulating that no individual “shall be required” to share information about their gun ownership.

Obama’s proposal said that does not mean doctors cannot ask patients about guns, and he planned to issue a formal clarification. Here’s more from a White House document:

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Protect the rights of health care providers to talk to their patients about gun safety: Doctors and other health care providers also need to be able to ask about firearms in their patients’ homes and safe storage of those firearms, especially if their patients show signs of certain mental illnesses or if they have a young child or mentally ill family member at home. Some have incorrectly claimed that language in the Affordable Care Act prohibits doctors from asking their patients about guns and gun safety. Medical groups also continue to fight against state laws attempting to ban doctors from asking these questions. The Administration will issue guidance clarifying that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit or otherwise regulate communication between doctors and patients, including about firearms.

As some were raising the alarm on the language in the law, other pediatricians and public health experts had been calling for a national investment in research around gun injury prevention, something that the NRA has fought for years. The Obama administration said Wednesday that it would “end the freeze on gun violence research.”

“[R]esearch on gun violence is not advocacy; it is critical public health research that gives all Americans information they need,” the same White House document said. Here’s more:

  • Conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including links between video games, media images, and violence: The President is issuing a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and scientific agencies to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. It is based on legal analysis that concludes such research is not prohibited by any appropriations language. The CDC will start immediately by assessing existing strategies for preventing gun violence and identifying the most pressing research questions, with the greatest potential public health impact. And the Administration is calling on Congress to provide $10 million for the CDC to conduct further research, including investigating the relationship between video games, media images, and violence.
  • Better understand how and when firearms are used in violent death: To research gun violence prevention, we also need better data. When firearms are used in homicides or suicides, the National Violent Death Reporting System collects anonymous data, including the type of firearm used, whether the firearm was stored loaded or locked, and details on youth gun access. Congress should invest an additional $20 million to expand this system from the 18 states currently participating to all 50 states, helping Americans better understand how and when firearms are used in a violent death and informing future research and prevention strategies.