Study finds many parents open to pediatricians discussing gun safety

While pediatricians may be reluctant to bring up gun safety with the parents of their patients, many of those parents are receptive to such conversations, a new study found.

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis concluded that pediatricians should avoid direct questioning of parents about firearm ownership and instead discuss how to ensure the safe storage of guns as a way to decrease firearm-related injuries and deaths in children.

The study (.pdf), published in the Journal of Pediatrics, surveyed 1,246 parents during a visit to their pediatrician’s office at 13 practices in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The study found that about half of the children in those families surveyed spent time in homes that have firearms, but that few parents reported talking about gun safety with their children’s pediatricians.

Most parents said they were open to such discussions, but one-third of the parents who own firearms indicated they did not want to be asked about household guns and would take offense or ignore physician advice to remove guns from their home.

"Many physicians feel a professional obligation to discuss gun violence prevention, but they don't because they are not sure what to say or what they're legally allowed to say," Jane M. Garbutt, M.D., one of the study’s authors and a professor of medicine and of pediatrics, said in an announcement. "Our research is a step toward finding a way to discuss firearm safety that is acceptable to both physicians and parents."

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians screen parents about the presence of household firearms, emphasize that a home without guns is the safest and advocate safe storage of firearms. However, physicians are concerned about offending patients and in many states face legal restrictions, Garbutt said.

Controversy over whether doctors should ask about gun ownership has resulted in state and national debate. For instance, many physicians have opposed a Florida law currently being disputed in the courts that prevents doctors from asking patients direct questions about guns in their homes.