Public Opinion Regarding Whether Speaking With Patients About Firearms Is Appropriate: Results of a National Survey

Ann Intern Med. 2016 Oct 18;165(8):543-550. doi: 10.7326/M16-0739. Epub 2016 Jul 26.


Background: Health care providers have been encouraged to discuss firearms with patients; whether patients view these discussions as appropriate is unclear.

Objective: To estimate, in a national sample, the perceived appropriateness of provider discussions about firearms.

Design: Probability-based online survey conducted in April 2015. Analyses used survey weights to generate nationally representative estimates.

Setting: U.S. adults.

Participants: 3914 English-speaking adults (55% participation rate).

Measurements: Participants were asked, "In general, would you think it is never, sometimes, usually, or always appropriate for physicians and other health professionals to talk to their patients about firearms?"

Results: A majority (66% [95% CI, 63% to 69%]) of participants said that it is at least sometimes appropriate for providers to talk to patients about firearms. Specifically, 23% (CI, 20% to 25%) said that provider discussions about firearms were always appropriate, 14% (CI, 11% to 16%) said that they were usually appropriate, and 30% (CI, 27% to 33%) thought they were sometimes appropriate; 34% (CI, 31% to 37%) felt that such discussions were never appropriate. Views varied by firearm ownership: 54% (CI, 52% to 57%) of gun owners said that provider discussions are at least sometimes appropriate, compared with 67% (CI, 62% to 71%) of nonowners living with an owner and 70% (CI, 66% to 74%) of nonowners not living with an owner. Firearm owners who were more likely to think that firearm discussions are at least sometimes appropriate included those with children at home (62% [CI, 57% to 67%]), those who thought that having a gun at home increases suicide risk (75% [CI, 67% to 83%), and those who thought that provider discussions of seat belts are at least sometimes appropriate (73% [CI, 70% to 75%]).

Limitations: The provider discussion question did not specify clinical context.

Conclusion: Two thirds of non-firearm owners and over one half of firearm owners in the United States believe that health care provider discussions about firearms are at least sometimes appropriate. The observed heterogeneity underscores the need to better understand assumptions that may underlie these views, particularly among firearm owners.

Primary funding source: Fund for a Safer Future and Joyce Foundation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Firearms*
  • Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ownership
  • Physician's Role*
  • Public Opinion*
  • Safety
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Young Adult