New initiative provides resources for physicians to have frank discussions with patients regarding firearm storage and safety
May 5, 2023 (ACP) -- The American College of Physicians is stepping up its efforts to put an end to firearm-related injuries and deaths with a new initiative announced during the Internal Medicine Meeting 2023 in San Diego.
As of May 1, 2023, there have been 13,952 deaths from gun violence, including 5,966 homicides, 7,986 suicides and 184 mass shootings in the United States, according to Gun Violence Archive, an independent, nonprofit data collection group.
In light of this growing epidemic, ACP is introducing its new initiative, which includes an online hub of firearm education and support resources, an advocacy toolkit, a one-page guide for speaking with patients about firearm injury, a new video offering practical tips for having these conversations and a pledge that doctors should sign to commit to having these conversations with patients when risk factors are present. There is also a link to a forum in the Annals of Internal Medicine that includes frank discussions on this topic, plus video stories from people impacted by firearm violence.
“Gun violence is a public health crisis that kills tens of thousands of Americans every year and injures many more and has devastating consequences for communities,” Dr. Ryan D. Mire, immediate past president of ACP, said at a press briefing held during the Internal Medicine Meeting 2023. “Regardless of whether people believe that guns hurt people or people using guns hurt people, this public health crisis demands that health care professionals … do what we can to combat it.”
For starters, physicians can and should talk to patients about firearm safety, said Dr. Sue Bornstein, immediate past chair of the ACP Board of Regents, a Dallas-based internal medicine specialist and a gun owner.
“More American lives are lost from firearm violence than motor vehicle crashes each year,” she said. In addition to the short- and long-term physical consequences of gun violence, patients also face panic attacks, fear and posttraumatic stress disorder for many years after an incident.
When starting these conversations, Bornstein suggested letting patients know that your office is a judgment-free zone. “Do assure patients that you are not threatening their right to possess firearms,” she said.
She also suggests never asking directly if a patient owns a firearm. Instead, Bornstein said, ask if all firearms in the home are safely stored. “Listen with empathy,” she advised.
She emphasized that this is not a one-and-done conversation, and it may take time to build trust with patients on this sensitive and highly charged topic.
Reducing firearm violence has been important to ACP for nearly three decades, added Shari Erickson, ACP chief advocacy officer and senior vice president. ACP advocates for commonsense approaches to gun violence prevention, namely keeping guns from people who pose threats, banning the sale of assault weapons and bump stocks and making sure firearms are stored safely and securely in the home, she said.
Legislators are making inroads in reducing firearm violence, according to Erickson. Last summer, Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. In March 2023, President Biden built on policies delineated in this act, including calling for more background checks before firearm purchases, increasing the use of “red flag” laws and accelerating law enforcement efforts to identify and apprehend shooters.
Everyone can do something, Erickson said. “Our members can take action and pledge to talk to patients about firearm safety or use the toolkit to advocate on this issue,” she said.
Resources for preventing firearms-related deaths and injuries are available on the ACP website.