Regardless of age, there are many topics to discuss during a child's wellness visit. One of those topics is sometimes an uncomfortable one to cover: gun safety and firearm-related risks.
Dr. Kim Guida, a physician at Pullman Family Medicine, feels that primary care providers play a vital role in informing and helping families understand the risks related to firearms. "Many providers don't ask because they don't want to risk offending the parent. It's a lot easier to ask about the proper use of car seats, seatbelts, and bike helmets than to ask about guns," Guida said. "But the fact is, firearms are now the leading cause of death in children in the United States and 85% of firearm deaths in children ages 0-12 occur in the home setting."
In November 2022, a policy statement was released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, providing a wealth of information on gun safety and is a good reference for physicians and parents. The policy encourages physicians and providers to educate themselves, their patients, and patient's families about the increased risks of firearm injuries. It also states that the presence of a gun in the home increases the risk of death or serious injury for everyone in the household, whether accidental or intentional.
A significant detail physicians consider is whether or not the child or teen struggles with mental health issues. "When taking mental health issues into account, we need to provide lethal means counseling," says Dr. Guida. "That means ensuring that there is no easy access to lethal means to harm themselves or others."
Outside of taking these precautions and asking about guns in the home, physicians should also encourage parents to ask about the presence of unlocked guns at the homes where their children will play or at relatives' homes. Dr. Guida urges parents to "store firearms in a locked safe, unloaded. Store the ammunition separately from the firearm in a locked safe or secure location, and make sure children do not know the combinations."
While there has been no recent push for physicians to ask patients about firearms, Dr. Guida sees the importance of acting now. "Research into firearms injury prevention is deeply lacking due to a ban on governmental funding in this area for more than 20 years," she says. "As a result, we are way behind in determining the best public health strategies to prevent thousands of children from being killed each year. We have to start somewhere, so just ask!"
Dr. Guida wants patients to know Pullman Family Medicine provides a safe space for patients and parents to talk about hot button topics, especially when they impact mental and physical health.
Pullman Family Medicine provides inclusive care and encourages healthy conversations about uncomfortable health topics. Learn more by visiting the Pullman Family Medicine webpage.