FIREARMS CONTROL (UPDATE 2001)
Firearms are a major cause of death and injury in Canada and account for nearly 1,400 deaths annually. The CMA has made several recommendations to governments and other bodies undertaking legislative review and public policy change. These recommendations relate to the regulation of firearms, education for the safe handling of firearms, broad-based violence prevention programs, and research and information provision. In addition, the CMA has produced guidelines to assist physicians in identifying and counselling patients at risk of violent behaviour and in reporting patients at risk.
Firearms are a major cause of death and injury in Canada.. The cost to society of firearm-related injury, particularly spinal cord and head injuries, is considerable.
Over the short term, policy should focus on firearms and the user. Applying stringent controls on firearms, however, may have little effect on the rates of death and injury if the underlying problems of violence in society are not addressed.
In an effort to accommodate both short-term and long-term solutions the CMA recommends the following to governments and bodies undertaking legislative review and public policy change.
The object of regulation should be to deter people at risk for violent or self-destructive behaviour from having easy access to firearms. A regulatory policy should address (a) the acquisition of firearms (e.g., licensing of firearms and/or users, processes to screen would-be purchasers who are at risk), b) secure firearm and ammunition storage methods and modifications to firearms that would render them less accessible to children or those acting on violent impulses and (c) severe penalties for offenses such as the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime or an act of violence, including family violence.
Training in safe handling of firearms is strongly recommended, particularly for all first-time firearm users. Broader-based education programs aimed at the prevention of violence (e.g., in schools) may also be efficacious and should be evaluated for their impact in reducing violence.
Research and information provision
CMA encourages research in a number of areas, including the following.
Firearm surveillance: the types of firearms or classes of ammunition disproportionately involved in intentional deaths and injuries, the circumstances surrounding a firearm incident (e.g., argument between friends, alcohol involvement) and data on injuries and deaths.
Determination of behavioural or environmental risk factors for violent behaviour: the relative risk or benefit of keeping a firearm at home for protection i.e.. the scientific assessment of the deterrence effect):
The effects of factors such as alcohol, drug use and family history of violence on the risk of violent death; and how accurately experts can identify people at risk.
Case-control and cohort studies on gun control, crime and the antecedents of violent behaviour.
Evaluation of education programs that discourage firearm-related violence or promote safe handling of firearms.
Role of physicians
The CMA recommends that physicians consider the following guidelines.
Management of patients at risk
It is not always possible to identify people at risk of violent or self-destructive behaviour; however, the CMA recommends that physicians be alert to warning signs that a patient may be at risk and manage that patient accordingly. For example, always ask depressed patients about suicidal and homicidal thoughts and plans (asking will not plant ideas); admit suicidal patients to hospital, even against their will, particularly if they do not have supportive families who can monitor them at home; have the family remove all firearms from the home of a patient at risk; and monitor the patient frequently, writing small prescriptions if medication is required.
Good clinical judgement and close follow-up are perhaps the most effective ways of managing a self-destructive or violent patient.
Reporting of patients at risk
No specific guidelines exist for the reporting of patients at risk of violent behaviour. The physician should consider whether the risk of harm to society (or a third party) posed by a patient outweighs that patient's right to confidentiality.
Counselling and public advocacy
A physician may be asked for a reference for an applicant of a firearms acquisition certificate. Before providing the reference the physician should consider the applicant carefully for risk factors, recommend appropriate firearms training and caution against the concomitant use of firearms, alcohol and other drugs.
A physician should become an advocate for nonviolent conflict resolution. As research accumulates about the most effective interventions for nonviolent conflict resolution the health sector may be able to draw on this research to work to reduce violence in society.
Like motor vehicle and bicycle safety, firearm safety is a public health issue. The CMA holds that physicians, as advocates for the health of Canadians, can help reduce firearm-related damage and address the concomitant underlying problem of violence in society.
The CMA recommends to the appropriate government authorities that all boxing be banned in Canada. Until such time, strategies to prevent injury should be pursued.
The CMA considers boxing a dangerous sport. While most sports involve risk of injury, boxing is distinct in that the basic intent of the boxer is to harm and incapacitate his or her opponent.
Boxers are at significant risk of injuries resulting in brain damage. Boxers are susceptible not only to acute life-threatening brain trauma, but also to the chronic and debilitating effects of gradual cerebral atrophy. Studies demonstrate a correlation between the number of bouts fought and the presence of cerebral abnormalities in boxers. There is also a risk of eye injury including long-term damage such as retinal tears and detachments.
- CMA supports a ban on professional and amateur boxing in Canada.
- Until boxing is banned in this country, the following preventive strategies should be pursued to reduce brain and eye injuries in boxers:
- Head blows should be prohibited. CMA encourages universal use of protective garb such as headgear and thumbless, impact-absorbing gloves
- The World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and other regulatory bodies should develop and enforce objective brain injury risk assessment tools to exclude individual boxers from sparring or fighting.
- The World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and other regulatory bodies should develop and enforce standard criteria for referees, ringside officials and ringside physicians to halt sparring or boxing bouts when a boxer has experienced blows that place him or her at imminent risk of serious injury.
- The World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and other regulatory bodies should encourage implementation of measures advocated by the World Medical Boxing Congress to reduce the incidence of brain and eye injuries.
- CMA believes that the professional responsibility of the physician who serves in a medical capacity in a boxing contest is to protect the health and safety of the contestants. The desire of spectators, promoters of the event, or even injured athletes that they not be removed from the contest should not influence the physician’s medical judgment.
- Further long term outcome data should be obtained from boxers in order to more accurately establish successful preventive interventions. CMA encourages ongoing research into the causes and treatments of boxing-related injuries, and into the effects of preventive strategies.
Health care professionals, including physicians, play an essential role in promoting health and preventing disease among all Canadians. A significant proportion of death, illness and injury in Canada is preventable. These preventable health problems place a substantial burden of suffering on individuals, families and communities as well as a heavy burden on society because they draw on scarce health care resources.
The World Health Organization defines health promotion as "the process of enabling people to increase control over and improve their health." Health promotion activities generally seek to influence either a person’s individual behaviours such as smoking and sedentary lifestyle. Effective health promotion also addresses the broader social determinants of health, for example, income, access to services and physical environment.
The CMA views prevention and health promotion as a responsibility to be shared among all health care providers, rather than the sole responsibility of any one group or specialty.
At a collective level, medical and other health organizations can be involved in prevention and health-promotion activities such as organizing public education campaigns, advocating for legislation that promotes health, such as laws to control pollution and tobacco products, and disseminating clinical practice guidelines to enhance standards of preventive care.
At an individual level, the role of physicians in the continuum of patient care is an important one, with the potential for further enhancement, and can include:
Health enhancement: As part of daily practice, physicians routinely offer information to support the prevention of disease. These activities include appropriate discussions with patients about nutrition, physical activity and access to social supports. In providing these services, physicians consider the social, economic and environmental conditions in which their patients live.
Risk avoidance: Physicians ensure that people take measures that will prevent specific risks of disease. Examples include providing immunizations, promoting breast-feeding, physical activity and the use of bicycle helmets.
Risk reduction: Physicians screen, counsel and work with individuals or segments of the population at higher risk of disease or injury to reduce their risk. Examples include screening for risk factors for the development of heart disease or diabetes, such as nutrition, smoking and alcohol use.
Early identification: Physicians screen people to detect diseases at an asymptomatic stage, when intervention can improve the outcome. Papanicolaou smears to detect cancer of the cervix and breast exams to detect breast cancer are two types of tests being used in early detection. With the increase in public awareness and interest in prevention, physicians often spend time with their patients discussing the pros and cons of tests such as mammographic screening of women and the prostate-specific antigen screening test for men.
Complication reduction: Physicians can prescribe therapy to prevent complications in patients with diagnosed conditions or diseases. For example, the use of medication to reduce the incidence of stroke or myocardial infarction in high risk patients.
1) Physicians should continue to incorporate all levels of health promotion and disease prevention into their practices, emphasizing activities for which there is sufficient scientific evidence.
2) Education in prevention and health promotion both at an individual and at a collective level, should be given high priority in undergraduate medical programs, in residency training and in continuing medical education.
3) Physicians should be encouraged to work with other health care professionals in the office setting and the community to enhance delivery of care that incorporates prevention and health promotion.
4) Remuneration systems should support a multidisciplinary approach to the delivery of these services; they should also support the provision of these services by individual physicians.
5) Patients should have access to a family physician who can provide care that includes prevention and health promotion. Family physicians should continue to develop professional relationships with their patients that encourage the long-term promotion and maintenance of good health.
6) Clear, simple and current guidelines for prevention and health promotion services should be widely distributed to physicians. The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care regularly develops and updates guidelines in this area.
7) Simple, easy-to-understand patient guidelines for prevention and health promotion should be developed and made available to the public. Physicians should continue to develop, improve and promote patient-counselling programs and office-management systems that encourage effective delivery of preventive care and health promotion.
8) Governments should give high priority to public policies that take account of the broad range of determinants of health, and proposed legislation should be routinely reviewed for any impact on the health of individuals and the community. CMA, in collaboration with other health professions and governments, will continue to explore means to ensure that public policies are developed with due attention paid to their potential health consequences.
Approved by the CMA Board in 2001.
Last reviewed and approved by the CMA Board in March 2019.