Background: Firearm-related deaths are expected to outnumber motor-vehicle-related deaths within the next 5 years. The goal of this project was to document gun ownership and safety habits among patients of family physicians and to determine patients' attitudes toward physician counseling about firearm safety.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional survey of patients of 11 family practices affiliated with a research network. Patients (or parents of children) were asked to complete a 23-item questionnaire that asked about gun ownership, storage, sources of information about gun safety, and attitudes about gun safety, and the role of their physician.
Results: Of the 1359 questionnaires distributed, 1214 (89%) were returned. Gun ownership varied by location (urban, suburban, and rural) and ranged from 16% to 59%. Only 8% of respondents believed that their physician has a responsibility to discuss firearm safety. Most (91%) patients did not view their physician as a source of firearm safety information, and only 14% thought their physician was knowledgeable regarding gun safety. Most gun owners (71%) did not think they would follow their physicians' advice about gun storage. Most patients (5%) responded that gun safety should not be discussed during the office visit.
Conclusion: With regard to firearm safety, family physicians lack credibility in the eyes of their patients. These patients do not appear to be receptive to information about firearm safety, and efforts to decrease firearm-related injury might be more effective if focused elsewhere.