Tips for Physicians on Gun Safety Advocacy

Nancy Baker, MD, former MAFP president and assistant professor in family medicine at the University of Minnesota, shared the following advocacy tips at the Minnesota Medical Association Workshop on Gun Violence Prevention.

Tip 1) Know the Facts

  • More than 38,000 individuals die from gun violence in the U.S. annually or 105 people/day—the largest number of civilian gun deaths in the world.*
  • Of gun deaths in the U.S., 60% are suicide, 39% homicide, 1% accidental and .3% mass shootings.*
  • Men account for 85% of firearm fatalities, and young adult males account for most fatal firearm injuries.*
  • There were more than 400 firearm related deaths in Minnesota in 2016.*

*Stats are from: American Medical Association course on the physician’s role in promoting firearm safety.

Tip 2) Prepare Your Two-minute Elevator Speech

Here’s a sample speech:
“Our goal is to promote safe and responsible gun ownership. Gun violence has reached epidemic proportions.

Firearm injuries and death are “in our lane,” because they represent a major public health risk with profound medical, psychological and financial consequences (the direct and indirect costs to the US economy = about $229 billion/year).

We provide medical care to those who are primary victims of gun violence, as well as those who experience secondary victimization. We are the experts at injury prevention (primary, secondary and tertiary).”

Read the American Academy of Family Physicians Position Paper: Prevention of Gun Violence.

Tip 3) Tell a Story Pertinent to the Work You Do

Share about the medical care/counsel you’ve provided, due to gun violence and/or injury prevention.

Tell a story about…
• a perpetrator or victim of gang violence.
• a patient with major depression, or an army veteran at risk for suicide.
• someone who is experiencing interpersonal violence.
• someone who has experienced secondary victimization from gun violence.
• counseling parents and children on bullying, social media, gun safety, etc.

Tip 4) Clarify Your Aim/Goals (Seek a Win/Win Solution)

GOAL 1) Seek universal criminal background checks for every gun sale, including those sold online and at gun shows. Eighteen states have strengthened background checks beyond federal laws. But, an estimated 22% of gun transfers do not involve a background check, and about 80% of all firearms acquired for criminal purposes are obtained in private-party transfers.

Evidence shows that requiring background checks on all gun sales saves lives and makes American communities safer. States that require background checks for all handgun sales, by point-of-sale check and/or permit, are associated with LOWER firearm homicide rates, firearm suicide rates and firearm trafficking.

Read more about H.R.8 legislation on background checks on the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund website.

GOAL 2) Seek to adopt a Red Flag Law, or an extreme risk protection order, which would allow relatives or law enforcement to petition a judge to remove firearms from those deemed to pose a serious threat to harm themselves or others. This is currently in legislation by MN Senator Ron Latz.

GOAL 3) Support improved access to and coverage of comprehensive mental health services, but recognize most individuals with mental illness are not violent.

GOAL 4) Seek mandatory inclusion of safety devices on all firearms.

GOAL 5) Seek to ban the possession and use of firearms and ammunition by unsupervised youth under the age of 21 (excluding those in the military or law enforcement).

GOAL 6) Advocate for schools to remain gun-free zones (except for professional law enforcement officers) and oppose requirements or incentives for teachers to carry weapons.

GOAL 7) Support research and data collection on the impact of firearms on individual and population health.

Tip 5) Offer to Assist With Moving The Issue Forward

Tell your legislator(s) that as a constituent, and as a member of MAFP, you want to help move this issue forward. Keep in contact with your legislator(s) with calls, emails and/or visits. You can also look to partner with other interested organizations or groups.


Baker has been involved with numerous physician trainings on working with victims of interpersonal violence. She also helped draft the American Academy of Family Physicians original white paper on intimate interpersonal violence. She said she became involved in advocacy, because she realized she had the “responsibility to speak on behalf of patients who are at risk for the adverse effects of violence.” 

Nancy Baker, MD, far right, chats with physician colleagues about gun violence prevention.
Nancy Baker, MD, far right, chats with physician colleagues at the Minnesota Medical Association Workshop on Gun Violence Prevention on January 31, 2019.

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