(CN) – Despite a recent flurry of high-profile activism by physicians against guns in the United States, a study released Friday found many political action groups for doctors donated more to candidates likely to oppose gun reform.
Researchers at Brown University analyzed the donation patterns of the 25 largest political action committees affiliated with physicians to determine whether their organizational support aligned with their advocacy for evidence-based policies aimed at reducing firearms-related injuries and death.
The results, documented in a study published Friday in the journal JAMA Network Open, indicate a gulf between words and action.
A majority of the 25 PACs gave more money in the 2016 election cycle to candidates who opposed increased background checks and other policies aimed at attempting to curb gun violence, according to the study.
"Doctors can – and should – lead efforts to prevent firearm violence," said Dr. Jeremiah Schuur, chair of emergency medicine at Brown University and co-author of the study. "Yet we found that the PACs affiliated with the doctors who provide frontline care for victims of gun violence contribute to candidates who are blocking evidence-based firearm safety policies. If the organized political giving of these organizations doesn't match their stated public health goals, they undermine the moral authority and scientific credibility they draw upon when advocating for policy change."
The most recent physician advocacy came this past November, when the National Rifle Association dismissively told a group of physicians who expressed concern about gun safety to mind their own business as it relates to gun ownership.
“Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane,” the NRA tweeted.
The reaction from physicians across the United States, and particularly those who work in the trauma units of hospital emergency rooms, was swift and condemnatory.
Several doctors took to social media, creating the hashtag #ThisIsOurLane and sharing graphic photos to show the cumulative toll gun violence takes on communities and families.
A group of doctors published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine citing evidence that the rash of accidental shootings, suicides by gun, mass shootings and one-on-one gun violence amount to a public health epidemic.
“The broad and rapid response to #ThisIsOurLane reflects not a new movement, but rather the convergence of multiple paths on which physicians had already embarked,” the group wrote.
But if Friday’s study is any indication, powerful PACs affiliated with the medical community haven’t gotten the anti-gun memo and are helping to elect legislators bent on thwarting gun-control efforts.
"We were surprised to find that there was a pattern across the largest PACs affiliated with physician professional organizations – they gave more money and to a greater number of congressional candidates who voted against background checks and were rated A by the NRA," said Hannah Decker, a medical student at Emory University and study co-author. "This pattern held true even for physician groups that publicly endorsed evidence-based policies to reduce firearm injury."
Specifically, the study found 20 of the 25 physician-affiliated PACs surveyed contributed more money to the campaigns of U.S. senators who voted against an amendment that would have called for more robust background checks on gun purchases.
Additionally, 24 of the 25 PACS gave more money to U.S. House of Representatives candidates who voted against a resolution to implement background checks. Physician-affiliated PACs gave nearly $1.5 million more to NRA A-rated candidates than to those with other ratings, the study said.
But Schurr says the problem isn’t one of blatant hypocrisy, but rather a failure of PACs to prioritize the issue of gun safety when making political contributions.
“Our study shows that these physician PACs haven't made candidates' stance on firearms policy an issue they consider,” he said. "The question going forward is if physicians can change their organizations' PACs contribution criteria, so NRA A-rated candidates no longer get the majority of physicians' political dollars.”
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