Asking Patients About Guns is a Loaded Question for Docs
"I've found that many people think of gun safety as something that deals with safe handling and storage of guns, and those don't seem to be within the wheelhouse of physicians," says Webster. "But when medical, behavioral, or social conditions come to the attention of the physicians that are relevant for self-directed or intrapersonal violence, the physician has credibility and a comfort zone to discuss gun-related risks and how to reduce those risks."
Viewing guns in the home as a risk to be mitigated in a doctor's office could take some of the political sting out of the conversation, though there has been legislation introduced in states to prohibit doctors talking about guns with patients.
The "Docs vs. Glocks" lawsuit spurred by a Florida bill passed in 2011 is the most well-known example, but a similar law in Tennessee was proposed this year. A federal judge issued an injunction in Florida that prevents the law from being enforced.
Cooke acknowledges that doctors will have to be educated on how to talk to patients about guns. It won't be easy, but the time has come, she says.
"Physicians are a trusted voice in the service of health and safety and we're not comfortable being silent when we see a significant public and health safety issue."
Jacqueline Fellows is an editor for HealthLeaders Media.
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