It is now over three months from the catastrophe in Newtown, Conn. I am concerned that although mental health is a major issue in developing a strategy for effective gun control in the United States, APA has not developed a specific policy statement. Nearly 10 years ago, I had the honor of serving on the APA Board of Trustees when APA assumed a national leadership position in promulgating a policy statement regarding torture. APA stated that it was always inappropriate for psychiatrists to be involved in torture. Our position then became a model for all physicians.
Today the APA Board must present to our nation a clear statement regarding gun control. That statement must include support for the following:
Background reviews for all individuals purchasing firearms.
Background reviews for individuals who obtain a firearm as a gift.
Restriction of the sale of all military-style assault weapons with a clear description of what these weapons are.
Restriction of the sale of magazines that contain more than 10 rounds.
Support for the rights of Americans under the Second Amendment of our Constitution as promulgated by the Supreme Court to own firearms.
Support for developing and maintaining effective mental health treatment programs for all Americans.
Leadership in mental health requires leading and being heard. Our silence on these issues will be noted. I appeal to the current Board of Trustees to promulgate a policy statement of which psychiatrists can be proud.
SIDNEY WEISSMAN, M.D.
Dr. Weissman is a past president of the Illinois Psychiatric Society and a former member of APA’s Board of Trustees.
Response from APA President Dilip Jeste, M.D.:
I thank Dr. Weissman for his letter. The issue of gun violence and mental illness has received considerable discussion within different components of APA. Below I illustrate several ongoing efforts in this area.
I have appointed the Ad-Hoc Work Group on Gun Violence. There are several APA position statements and resource documents on gun violence since 1993. These are still active and can be found on the APA Web site, http://www.psychiatry.org. The work group will review these documents and, if appropriate, either update them or create a new position statement for an expedited review by the Assembly and the Board of Trustees. The American Association of Family Physicians has recently formed the Coalition on Gun Violence and has invited APA to join. Leaders of the new APA work group will participate in this coalition.
We have formed a new coalition of physician organizations under the leadership of APA. It includes the AMA, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, American Association of Addiction Psychiatry, American Association of Community Psychiatry, and American Association of Emergency Psychiatry. The colition has a specific goal of recommending to the administration and Congress, steps aimed at reducing violence in relationship to mental illness, including when people with mental illness are victims of violence and suicide. The coalition will not deal with the issues related to gun ownership in general. A conference call has been scheduled and will be followed by an in-person meeting at APA headquarters.
Paul Appelbaum, M.D., represented APA at a meeting of Vice President Biden’s Gun Violence Task Force. Dr. Appelbaum’s comments are posted at http://www.psychiatry.org/File%20Library/Advocacy%20and%20Newsroom/APA%20on%20the%20Issues/01-09-2013-APA-Recommendations-to-Biden-Task-Force.pdf. Similarly, my recent letter to congressional leaders on gun violence and mental illness treatment and research can be accessed at http://www.psychiatry.org/advocacy--newsroom/advocacy/apa-sends-letter-to-congress-regarding-recent-shooting-in-newtownct. More recently, APA has submitted testimony to two Senate hearings, which can be found at http://www.psychiatry.org/advocacy--newsroom/advocacy/apa-submits-testimony-to-senate-judiciary-committee and http://www.psychiatry.org/advocacy--newsroom/advocacy/apa-submits-testimony-to-congress-on-the-state-of-americas-mental-health-system.
APA’s Department of Government Relations and Division of Advocacy provide staff support for these initiatives.
The issues of violence and mental illness require thoughtful deliberations. I welcome our members’ input as we develop policy statements on these critical topics. ■