- Physicians can and should be asking their patients if they own or use guns, a report published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded.
- Many doctors assume state and federal laws prohibit them from counseling patients about firearms and sharing patient information about guns with others, even in the face of health and safety threats, the authors wrote.
- The report offers recommendations on how to counsel patients about reducing firearm risks and when it is appropriate to disclose patient information about guns to third parties.
Fueling concerns about firearms counseling is a 2011 Florida law that forbids doctors from asking routine questions about gun ownership. Several other states have considered similar legislation, but their proposals have failed to pass.
“Firearm violence is an important health problem, and most physicians agree that they should help prevent that violence,” Garen Wintemute, a public health expert at the University of California Davis and co-author of the report, told The Washington Post.
He added the Florida law, while restrictive, does make allowances for questions about firearms if there is a concern about the patient’s healthcare or safety or the safety of others. But what is "relevant" is debatable and doctors risk losing their license if they violate the law.
Wintemute and his colleagues point to three groups of patients that could especially benefit from firearms counseling: Older white men, who are most at risk for suicide by guns; young black males, where gun homicide rates are high; and patients with substance abuse or certain mental health disorders.