Garen Wintemute (Violence Prevention Program, University of California Davis, USA), in an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine, has called for physicians to make a public commitment to talk to their patients about firearms, counsel them on safe firearm behaviours, and take further action when an imminent hazard is present.
Following the Las Vegas mass shooting, Wintemute states that doctors “must take action” if Congress and the White House “won’t do anything” to stop gun violence.
According to a press release from the American College of Physicians, both Wintemute and the editors of Annals of Internal Medicine recognise that commitments to change health-related behaviours mean more when they are made in public. Therefore, they are now urging physicians to fill in an online form on the journal’s website and make a public commitment to discuss firearm safety with their patients who are at risk for firearm-related injury. Once they have made their own pledge, physicians are then being asked to send the commentary to their colleagues and invite them to make the same commitment. Physicians’ commitments will be posted as comments to Wintemute’s commentary.
According to the press release, Wintemute’s call-to-action is supported by data. It reports that people who commit firearm violence against themselves or others often have well-recognised risk factors that bring them into contact with physicians. Substance abuse, acute injury, a history of violence (including a suicide attempt), and poorly controlled severe mental illness are all proven risk factors that offer an opportunity for intervention.
Some physicians may not feel knowledgeable enough about guns, gun laws, or the benefits and risks of gun ownership to initiate a dialog with their patients. Therefore, Wintemute suggests that physicians turn to the growing literature to find the answers and resources they need.
In a second editorial, the editors stress that while they have and will continue to publish high quality research to help inform efforts to address the health care crisis of firearm-related injury and death, the most important place where evidence is translated into preventative care is in the privacy of the examination room. They urge their colleagues to commit to talking about firearm safety with their at-risk patients.