From  Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law (ABC/Clio: 2d ed. 2012). 

By Paul Gallant and Joanne Eisen

The American Medical Association (AMA) is an organization of physicians whose goal is "to promote the art and science of medicine and betterment of public health." The AMA believes that private firearm ownership is a public health menace, and has consistently advocated strong gun control provisions in order to reduce citizen access to firearms.

The AMA was founded in 1847 by Nathan Davis at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. In 1999, it had a combined membership of 300,000 medical students and physicians. The AMA House of Delegates meets twice yearly to formulate AMA policy.

According to the AMA, the ownership and use of firearms, especially handguns, pose serious threats to the public's health. The AMA believes that handguns are one of the main causes of intentional and unintentional injuries and death in the U.S.

In 1992, the AMA's Council on Scientific Affairs promulgated a report and position paper on "Assault Weapons" (guns with a military appearance), and declared them to be a public health hazard in the United States. It recommended legislation to restrict the sale and private ownership of such firearms.

Among the critics of the AMA report was Edgar A. Suter, M.D. According to Suter (1995), "The AMA Council on Scientific Affairs did not conduct a rigorous scientific evaluation before supporting a ban on assault weapons. The Council appears to have unquestioningly accepted common misperceptions and even partisan misrepresentations regarding the nature and uses of assault weapons....While an assault weapon ban may have appeared to the Council to be a simple solution to America's exaggerated 'epidemic' of violence, a scholarly review of the literature finds no reliable data to support such a ban. Unfortunately the Council's faulty call for prohibition may distract legislators and the public from addressing effective methods of controlling violence."

The AMA encourages its members to use regular check-ups as an opportunity to inquire from patients whether firearms are present in their household, to educate patients about the dangers of firearms, to advise patients to educate their children and neighbors about the dangers of firearms, and to remind patients to obtain firearm safety locks, lock up all firearms, and store ammunition separately.

The AMA supports numerous legislative initiatives dealing with firearms. These include: waiting periods and background checks for all handgun purchases; the requirement that manufacturers incorporate a variety of features in all firearms, including visible loaded-gun indicators, trigger locks, and an increased minimum force needed to activate a trigger; increased licensing fees for firearm dealers; increased federal and state surtaxes on manufacturers, dealers and purchasers of handguns and semi-automatic firearms, as well as on the ammunition such firearms use, with the revenue so obtained to be allocated for health and law enforcement activities related to the prevention and control of violence in the U.S.; mandatory destruction of any firearms obtained in gun surrender programs; a ban on certain types of bullets; and banning the possession and use of firearms and ammunition by unsupervised youths under the age of 18.

Some physician groups have been highly critical of the AMA and its position on private firearm ownership. Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership (DRGO), founded in 1994, believes that social activists in the medical and public health fields (including the AMA) have used their authority to misrepresent gun ownership as a "disease." According to DRGO, organized medical groups like the AMA use discredited advocacy research and poor medical scholarship to justify their political stand against firearms and gun-owners. Furthermore, they ignore legitimate criminological research because it generally proves that good citizens use guns wisely.

DRGO has criticized the AMA's practice of encouraging doctors to use their professional authority and patient trust as a means of advancing a political agenda for gun control. A doctor's responsibility is to place the patient's needs above all else. However, a physician reverses this priority when, because of passionate political beliefs, he tries to influence a patient about guns and firearm ownership. In doing so, that doctor crosses the line from healer to political activist. DRGO maintains that this places their intervention in the area of unethical physician conduct called "boundary violations," claims DRGO.

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is another group which argues that the AMA's position on firearms is biased and politicized.

The AMA's most well-known publication is the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), published weekly. While JAMA explicitly states that its editorials do not reflect the views of the AMA, they nevertheless often mirror its philosophy.

Each year, JAMA publishes a number of "theme" issues. One of these is usually on the subject of Violence. The editorials accompanying these issues articulate the empathy, anguish, and frustration physicians are faced with from the aftermath of violence, and their desire to prevent and eliminate violence.

However, while many of JAMA's violence "theme" issues have contained articles dealing with guns and firearm-related violence, none of them have addressed the positive elements of firearm ownership (e.g. self-defense) which may prevent violence.

Although the vast majority of JAMA articles on firearms have supported gun control, a notable exception was an article by Jens Ludwig and Philip Cook (2000), which found that the Brady Act had no significant effect on homicide rates, or on overall suicide rates.

A JAMA editorial that accompanied the study by Ludwig and Cook argued that the flaw in the Brady Act was that its provisions applied only to sales by licensed gun dealers, and not to informal transactions among family, friends, or other acquaintances.



For more information, contact:


American Medical Association

515 N. State Street

Chicago, IL 60610




Association of American Physicians & Surgeons

1601 N. Tucson Blvd., Suite 9

Tucson, AZ 85716



Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership

The Claremont Institute

250 W. First St., Suite 330

Claremont, CA 91711




For Further Reading:


Cook, Philip J., Lawrence, Bruce A., and Ludwig, Jens. 1999. "The Medical Costs of Gunshot Injuries in the United States." Journal of the American Medical Association 282(5) (August 4): 447-454.

Council on Scientific Affairs. 1992. "Assault Weapons as a Public Health Hazard in the United States." Journal of the American Medical Association 267(22) (June 10): 3067-3070.


Faria, Miguel Jr. 2001. "Public Health and Gun Control - A Review." The Medical Sentinel 6(1): 11-18.


Ludwig, Jens, and Cook, Philip J. 2000. "Homicide and Suicide Rates Associated With Implementation of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act." Journal of the American Medical Association 284(5)(August 2): 585-591.


McAfee, Robert E. 1995. "Physicians and Domestic Violence: Can We Make a Difference?" Journal of the American Medical Association 273(22)

(June 14): 1790-1791.


Rosenfeld, Richard. 2000. "Tracing the Brady Act's Connection with Homicide and Suicide Trends." Journal of the American Medical Association 284(5)(August 2): 616-618.


Suter, Edgar A. 1994. "Assault Weapons' Revisited - An Analysis of the AMA Report." Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia (May): 281-289.


Suter, Edgar A. 1994. "Guns in the Medical Literature - A Failure of Peer Review." Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia 83(March): 133-148.


Wheeler, Timothy. 1999. "Boundary Violation: Gun Politics in the Doctor's Office." The Medical Sentinel (March/April): 60-61.

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