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Nurses' Questions About Guns Could Save Lives

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, April 9, 2013

"Gun violence cannot fall outside that," she says.

Marian Betz, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the CU School of Medicine and lead author of the new study echoed those sentiments in a statement about the new study.

"This is an opportunity for intervention, but very often providers don't know how to react or they think someone else should ask about firearms," said Betz. "And then some have an aversion to getting into an area so fraught with politics. This is not an issue of gun control; it's a safety issue for patients in crisis."

The Surgeon General's 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, encourages healthcare providers "who interact with individuals at risk for suicide to routinely assess for access to lethal means."

Although nurses and other healthcare providers might be intimidated or unsure about asking about firearms access, doing so—and incorporating those skills into medical education—could potentially change the course of a suicidal person's life, researchers say.

"However, brief risk assessment of access to lethal means and possibly brief interventions are reasonable skills for emergency department providers to master," Betz said. "Whenever we have the opportunity to save a life, we ought to be taking it."


Alexandra Wilson Pecci is a managing editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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3 comments on "Nurses' Questions About Guns Could Save Lives"


Gus Geraci, MD (4/19/2013 at 2:19 PM)
Part of the "standard" evaluation of a suicidal patient is, "If you were going to do it, how would you do it?" The rating of suicidality goes WAY up, if the patient says, "Well, I have access to guns and ammunition." That's not the issue. The issue is what to do with that information. Warning friends and family and removing the guns does not remove the risk, because a determined person will find a way. We can not force a person to accept care. Now imagine the person has said they want to kill others...

LJH (4/10/2013 at 10:02 AM)
In my area of rural America, I would guess well over 75% of the population has access to a firearm of some sort - a hunting rifle, shotgun, etc. As an ED nurse for more than seven years, (and a nurse for more than 25) I never asked the question because I assumed the answer would always be yes. And what would I do with the information? Am I allowed to tell the family members of a competent patient that he may have suicidal thoughts, but no specific plan? Do I come out of the room and tell the parents of the 19 year old to lock up their guns with no explanation? How about the woman who lives alone and says she accidently overdosed on her pain meds, then tells me she has a handgun for protection? I'm really unclear what action the study authors believe could be done.

Kent (4/9/2013 at 9:15 PM)
I understand the logic here, and we must do what we can, but a gun is still an inanimate object. We council against smoking (bad for you) and about wearing sun screen (recommended), but do healthcare professionals ask if cigarettes or sun screen are present in the home? Perhaps... But in my experience (and unfortunately both my parents committed suicide); those committed to doing so rarely talk about it (mine did not) and it is easy enough to do without a firearm (sad I know). Remove one inanimate object (gun) from the equation and they will find another means of doing it (knife). Guns are not a public health issue; no more than cars or cheeseburgers or motorcycles (all of which likely kill or injure more people). The improper use of each is at the core of the discussion. Maybe we should consider obtaining licenses for cheeseburgers??