Law, Ethics, and Conversations between Physicians and Patients about Firearms in the Home

AMA J Ethics. 2018 Jan 1;20(1):69-76. doi: 10.1001/journalofethics.2018.20.1.hlaw1-1801.


Firearms in the home pose a risk to household members, including homicide, suicide, and unintentional deaths. Medical societies urge clinicians to counsel patients about those risks as part of sound medical practice. Depending on the circumstances, clinicians might recommend safe firearm storage, temporary removal of the firearm from the home, or other measures. Certain state firearm laws, however, might present legal and ethical challenges for physicians who counsel patients about guns in the home. Specifically, we discuss state background check laws for gun transfers, safe gun storage laws, and laws forbidding physicians from engaging in certain firearm-related conversations with their patients. Medical professionals should be aware of these and other state gun laws but should offer anticipatory guidance when clinically appropriate.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Counseling / ethics
  • Counseling / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Firearms / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Government Regulation
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Physician-Patient Relations / ethics*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / ethics
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Safety
  • State Government
  • Violence*