May 22, 2008
Barry Solomon, M.D., teaches young doctors how to ask about firearms in the home.
Pediatrician Barry Solomon’s assault against youth violence has been through educating physicians on how to engage their patients’ families about gun safety in the home. In his 2000 survey of 320 pediatric residents about their practices regarding firearm safety counseling, he learned that only half routinely raised the issue with their patients and families (Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, August 2002). Although all residents believed their patients were at risk and it was their responsibility to counsel, they cited barriers like time constraints and a perception that talking was unlikely to change behaviors.
“By bringing up the issue, residents might feel they are offending their patients or families, or invading their personal space,” says Solomon. “Even if you don’t discuss it with every family, physicians need to counsel families with high risk patients, those youth with aggressive and violent behavior problems, or symptoms of depression or thoughts of suicide.”
One way around any awkwardness is to routinely include questions about firearm ownership and storage during the patient’s personal history.
Pediatricians should frame firearm safety as a child safety issue they ask all families about, like using car seats or wearing bike helmets. “Opening the door,” says Solomon, “will open up other issues regarding gun safety and parental supervision.”