The APA and other medical professional organizations are in a unique position to take a lead in advocating for public policies to decrease the devastating toll of gun violence. This will require professional medical organizations like the APA to stop protecting the political status quo and remember the primary medical ethic: do no harm.
The PACs’ disregard of their organizations’ public stance on firearm regulation reform makes all physician members, not just those who donate to the PACs, look like cynical hypocrites. As Neufeld and colleagues point out:
Campaign contributions of an organization reflect its legislative priorities. Physician organizations that donate to NRA-backed congressmembers are sending the message that reducing firearm injury is not enough of a priority to outweigh other considerations.6
PACs are legally required to be separate entities from their affiliated organizations; they have separate boards and bylaws to oversee fundraising and donations. The governing officers, boards, and assemblies of the medical professional organizations with which the PACS are affiliated cannot direct their PACs’ contribution decisions. Nevertheless, professional medical PACs raise their money almost exclusively from their organizations’ members.
If the APA PAC and other medical affiliated PACs continue patterns of making political contributions in direct opposition to the APA’s and other affiliated medical organizations’ stated positions on firearm reform, physician members should consider whether they want to continue contributing to these PACs. It is not enough for the APA to take public positions about gun violence and public health. We can talk the talk, but our PAC needs to walk the walk. The gun violence epidemic is undoubtedly our lane. Let’s be the public health leaders America needs.
Dr Gold is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Georgetown University, Washington, DC.
1. American Psychiatric Association: Position Statement on Firearm Access, Acts of Violence and the Relationship to Mental Illness and Mental Health Services.
2. Weinberger SE, Hoyt DB, Lawrence HC, et al. Firearm related injury and death in the United States: a call to action from 8 health professional organizations and the American Bar Association. Ann Intern Med. 2015: 162:513-516.
3. Bulger EM, Kuhls DA, Campbell BT, et al. Proceedings from the Medical Summit on Firearm Injury Prevention: A Public Health Approach to Reduce Death and Disability in the US. J Am Coll Surg. 2019.
4. DeBonis M, Guskin E. Americans of both parties overwhelmingly support “red flag” laws, expanded background checks for gun buyers. Washington Post. September 9, 2019.
5. Schuur JD, Decker H, Baker O. Association of physician organization affiliated political action committee contributions with US House of Representative and Senate candidates’ stances on firearm regulation. JAMA Network Open. 2019;2:e187831.
6. Neufeld MY, Sanchez SE, Siegel M. Firearm policy: physician organizations’ role in political action committee funds, 2018. Am J Pub Health. September 19, 2019 [Epub ahead of print].
7. Sharfstein JM, Sharfstein SS: Campaign contributions from the American political action committee to members of congress: for or against the public health. N Eng J Med. 1994;330;32-37.