State’s doctors take sides in gun policy debate, endorsing I-594’s expansion of background checks

Washington’s professional association of doctors has endorsed the gun background checks measure, Initiative 594.

The vote by the Washington State Medical Association’s House of Delegates came during its annual meeting in SeaTac on Sept. 21, and it was announced Tuesday by the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which is running the I-594 campaign.

I-594 would require background checks for sales and transfers of firearms including gun shows and online sales. WSMA spokeswoman Susan Callahan said a majority was required to endorse, but details of any vote count were not immediately available.

The exact wording of the resolution:

“RESOLVED, that the WSMA supports efforts by the state of Washington to require universal background checks by licensed dealers for all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the WSMA publicly endorses Initiative Measure 594.”

A second resolution, which did not pass, would not have endorsed the specific wording of I-594 but instead would have reaffirmed WSMA’s “support of the goals of reducing gun violence and increasing state funding of the mental health system, including public health.” The delegates include physician representatives from county medical societies, specialty societies and also WSMA’s board of trustees, Callahan said.

Doctors did not weigh in on a second ballot measure, I-591, which buttresses gun rights and would bar stricter background check laws in Washington in the absence of a national standard. I-594 has attracted financial support from wealthy individuals and out of state financial interests have supported both measures. Inside the state, law enforcement officers may be split in their support but the largest association, the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, opposes I-594, and some police groups are staying neutral.

Some opponents of expanded background checks are expressing concern about the way I-594 might affect loans of firearms.

WSMA has weighed in on gun violence before, adopting a resolution in 2012 that supported “restricting child access to firearms through safe storage and child access prevention laws” as well as using “evidence-based gun violence prevention and gun safety strategies to directly address unintentional firearm injuries” in the state.

I-594 said a psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, and a cardiologist, Dr. Mark Vossler, were co-sponsors of the new resolution.

“If you’re a doctor, you know gun violence is a public health issue,” Vossler was quoted by the I-594 campaign as saying. “Washington physicians need to speak up about the issues of gun violence because we have a responsibility to promote the health of our society, not just the health of the next patient in our waiting room. The data from states that closed the background check loophole is convincing — Initiative 594 will reduce crime and save lives in Washington.”

It also quoted Alexander as saying: “As a psychiatrist, I work in a field of medicine where the deaths of my patients are self-inflicted ... My work with at-risk individuals informs my support for background checks. States that have closed the background check loophole have dramatically fewer suicides, murders of women by intimate partners, and law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty with handguns.”