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Asking Patients About Guns is a Loaded Question for Docs

Jacqueline Fellows, for HealthLeaders Media, April 10, 2014

"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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4 comments on "Asking Patients About Guns is a Loaded Question for Docs"


Kevin Michalowski (4/14/2014 at 11:57 AM)
If you believe it is time for Doctors to start asking patients about guns, then it is well past time for Doctors, and organizations like yours, to start getting real training and solid information about guns. Your position on an assault weapons ban is foolish. How is it that a pistol grip or bayonet lug or detachable magazine could make one gun more dangerous than another? Your support of Universal Background Check is simply a cover for a national registration scheme. If you sell me a gun without conducting a background check how is anyone to know? The only way anyone could know is if the gun's serial number was registered in a national data base AND someone physically confirmed the location of that gun on a regular schedule. Even then unless the confirmation of the location was daily that background check does nothing to stop a crime. So, a background check without registration and regular confirmation of location does nothing but interfere with the rights of honest citizens. Do we still have a 4th Amendment right against illegal searches? Does the fact that we own a gun suddenly make us a criminal, subject to such searches? Far better would be for the your group to promote universal firearms training starting in elementary school. Both my my children started firearms training and use at age 7. Thanks to responsible parenting and valuable early education, both are now fine, responsible young adults with great safety skills. You spend very little time talking about personal responsibility and much more time talking about intrusions into people's private lives. If you, as physicians, want to reduce the number of people injured or killed through the misuse of firearms, you should all become certified firearms instructors and begin teaching safety classes. At the same time, please publish the number of deaths as a result of physician malpractice. Then tell us who and what is more dangerous.

cb (4/11/2014 at 1:02 PM)
If that is a question asked by my doc I'm finding another doc.

Todd Lilje (4/10/2014 at 9:08 PM)
Having a very difficult time understanding why physicians need to address the issue of guns in the home! Historically, this country has maintained to the right to bear arms, a constitutional right. Guns in the home are one of many potential hazards in the home, but do not need to be singled out any more than other such hazards in the home, unless you are of of the mind that no one should own guns, except the federal government.