Health care providers rarely ask patients if they have access to firearms in their home, according to a new study.
Doing so could diminish the risk of serious injury or death and encourage conversations about secure firearm storage, the researchers say.
For the study in Preventive Medicine researchers surveyed 3,510 English-speaking adults in five states: Colorado, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Texas, asking if a health care provider had ever asked them whether they have access to firearms.
They found that 17.1% of participants had been asked by a health care provider about firearm access. This number was largely consistent across groups, with 20.1% of those with children 17 years old or younger, 25.5% of those with a history of mental health treatment, and 21.4% of firearm owners ever having been screened for firearm access.
“Although we know that firearm access increases the risk for fatal injury for everyone in the home, health care providers are rarely asking about firearm access,” says lead author Allison Bond, a doctoral student at the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers University.
“In order to prevent these injuries and deaths, health care providers need consider adding screening for firearm access into standard practice so that they are better positioned to then provide resources on secure firearm storage to the families that would most benefit from that information.”
The researchers also examined which factors were associated with greater odds of having been screened by a health care provider for firearm access.
They found that people with a lifetime history of suicidal thoughts, men, those who identified as white, parents with children 17 years old or younger living in the home, those with a history of mental health treatment, and firearm owners were more likely to have been screened.
Among firearm owners, those with children in the home ages 17 or younger and those with a history of mental health treatment were more likely to have been screened. Even among groups with greater odds of having been screened, the majority of individuals had never been asked about firearm access.
“Given these results, it appears that screening is more likely among certain health care providers, like pediatricians and mental health care providers,” says Michael Anestis, executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center, an associate professor in the Rutgers School of Public Health and senior author of the study.
“It may also be that health care providers are often relying upon their sense of who is most likely to own a firearm when making a decision whether or not to ask.”
“The problem with that, however, is that the demographics of firearm ownership have changed in the past few years and many of those at greatest risk for firearm injury or death never present in specialized mental health care settings,” says Anestis. “We need health care providers to broaden their vision of the role of firearm access to ensure they can help the greatest number of people.”
Source: Rutgers University