Short Questionnaire Helps Identify Youths With Access to Guns

Laurie Barclay, MD

December 19, 2003

Dec. 19, 2003 — A seven-question screening tool may be reliable for identifying youths who have access to guns, according to the results of a study published in the December issue of the Southern Medical Journal.

"New techniques with which to identify youths who have gun accessibility are important for understanding and planning interventions to reduce the risk of injuries caused by use of firearms," write Leslie S. Zun, MD, MBA, and La Vonne Downey, PhD, from Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.

Seven questions about gun accessibility, ownership, and usage were selected from a much longer questionnaire about access to guns, and both questionnaires were administered to 100 consenting subjects aged 10 to 24 years who presented to the emergency department for any complaint. Average age was 21 years, 39% were men, 66% were black, and 31% were Hispanic.

Answers to all of the questions in the short screening tool were statistically similar to those in the long questionnaire, and both instruments revealed a low number of gun owners but a high level of gun accessibility and availability. Two youths had a gun; four knew of a gun in their home, garage, or car; 38% believed it would be easy to obtain a gun; and 25% believed that getting a gun would be impossible. None of the youths had shared ownership of a gun. In the past six months, 8% had fired a gun, and 24% had fired a gun more than six months ago.

Study limitations include consecutive administration of both questionnaires during the same visit, a skewed study sample, lack of validation of the long gun surveys, limitations of the interview technique, the institutional review board requirement for consent, and potential falsification of answers for fear of legal prosecution.

"This short questionnaire could be used to screen large numbers of youths who present to a health care setting to identify youths who have access to guns," the authors write. "Screening of a large number of youths in the health care sector is the first step in reducing gun accessibility and, possibly, gun use."

South Med J. 2003;96:1238-1242

Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD


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