Gun Safety

Pediatricians May Be Key To Improving Home Gun Safety

New research shows parents are much more open to discussing gun safety with their child's doctor than others.

A pediatrician talks with a mother. A new study shows that parents - both gun-owners and non-owners ...
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Pediatricians might become a large part of the gun control conversation, according to new research. A study conducted by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania shows that most parents, no matter whether or not they own guns, are more open to talks about gun safety if it’s their child’s pediatrician that opens up the discussion.

The discovery offers a potential pathway to reducing firearm injuries and deaths suffered by children.

“Parents appreciated a collaborative approach to decision-making and the emphasis on child safety,” said the study’s lead author, Katelin Hoskins, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the Penn Center for Mental Health, said in a university press release. “Our findings add to a growing evidence base that a nonjudgmental, empathetic, and collaborative approach to firearm storage counseling enhances acceptability and potential effectiveness for behavior change.”

Hoskins and other researchers measured the reception of the gun safety program known as Suicide and Accident prevention through Family Education (S.A.F.E.) Firearm. S.A.F.E. Firearm involves a discussion between parents and a pediatrician that focused on the secure storage of firearms. The program also offers a free cable lock to participants.

For the study, which took place during the summer of 2020, parents watched a short video of a pediatrician discussing gun safety during their child’s doctor appointment. The 97 parent participants — 52 gun owners, 45 non-owning — then filled out a short survey following the presentation. Of the participants, over 80% said they would recommend the program to a friend from their child’s pediatrician; 75% said they trust their pediatrician’s overall advice regarding gun safety.

“Pediatric clinicians’ expertise in child health, child development, and treatment of firearm injuries enhances their credibility as firearm safety messengers,” Hoskins said. “Despite the politically sensitive topic of firearms, implementation of evidence-based interventions in pediatric primary care has great potential for reducing injuries and saving lives. An area for further inquiry is how length of relationship — how long a family has been connected to the same clinician — impacts trust and subsequent uptake of secure storage recommendations.”

Of the 46% of firearm-owning participants, about 1 in 3 said that they had their unloaded gun locked away with ammunition stored elsewhere — which is what gun safety experts recommend. Promisingly, after the presentation, 64% of the gun-owning participants said they would change how they store their firearms after going through the S.A.F.E. Firearm program.

“The tragedies in Buffalo and Uvalde, plus the devastating loss of life due to firearm injuries right here in Philadelphia, underscore the importance of mobilizing across multiple sectors to prevent firearm deaths,” Hoskins said. “Recent data indicating that youth firearm suicide has reached its highest rate in more than 20 years adds additional urgency. The ASPIRE trial, which tests the most effective way to implement S.A.F.E. Firearm as a universal suicide prevention strategy, is currently underway. We are eager to learn from this work and identify best approaches for national implementation of firearm safety promotion.”