Most Healthcare Providers See Gun Violence as Public Threat

Marcia Frellick

December 28, 2017

Most healthcare providers (65%) who responded to a new Medscape Medical News poll said they see gun violence as a public threat, but many said they are not at all prepared to discuss gun safety with patients.

The poll questions were published October 18 after the Las Vegas mass shooting on October 1 that left 58 people dead and more than 500 injured.

Of 462 total respondents, 72% of physicians and 71% of nurses/advanced practice nurses said gun violence is a public health threat. Significantly fewer (57%) in the "other healthcare provider" category (which included categories such as chiropractors, dietitians/nutritionists, and social workers) answered that way.

Although some who commented on the poll agreed that gun violence was a public threat, many of the more than 45 comments argued against the characterization.

One commenter who listed his affiliation as psychiatry/mental health wrote, "There are many behavioral 'threats to public health' that are more prevalent than gun violence, which is bad enough. Auto accidents, rape, assault, arguably computer games that teach violent behavior."

Another healthcare provider wrote, "Gun violence is not a public health threat, it is the symptom of a profound public health threat, terminal desperation."

Physicians were the least likely of the three groups in the poll to own a gun, at 27%, whereas 39% of nurses and 32% of the other providers said they were gun owners.

As to whether respondents felt physicians have a responsibility to discuss gun safety, 57% of physicians said yes, but physicians who own a gun were less likely to feel responsible for gun safety education (27%) than were those who don't own a gun (72%).

Fifty-one percent of nurses felt physicians have the responsibility to discuss gun safety. The other providers were evenly split, with 39% each in the yes and no responses. The rest in that category were unsure.

Few Have the Discussion With Patients

Few physicians and nurses are having the conversations. Forty-five percent of physicians and 39% of nurses said they had never had those discussions with patients.

That may be related to the low confidence both groups reported in their readiness to have such conversations. Fewer than half of physicians and nurses (38% vs 47%) said they felt "very prepared" to discuss gun safety with patients. The answer "not at all prepared" was selected by 26% of physicians and 29% of nurses.

The medical community is one of many arenas in which the issue is hotly debated nationally.

Suggestions in a recent essay in Medscape that physicians should not own firearms drew more than 260 comments, with impassioned arguments on both sides. The essay, by George D. Lundberg, MD, cited higher risk for suicide for physicians and pleaded, "Get rid of those damn guns from your house, car, and office. They are much more likely to kill you or your family than they are to protect you."

Many agree the topic is understudied. Findings of research reported by Reuters showed that gun violence research is lacking.

The study showed that the "research on gun violence published between 2004 and 2014 was only 4.5 percent of what would be expected for a cause of death that kills more than 30,000 people in the United States each year. And the funding for that research was only 1.6 percent of what would be expected."

But not all agree that more research is needed.

A nurse who commented on the Medscape Medical News poll said, "People are the problem, not inanimate objects like guns. Should we control knives? How about cars? How about alcohol, combined with cars, which kills far more people per year than all our mass shootings. Expect to improve the world by having a federal agency get a big grant to study gun violence? Haven't we wasted enough tax money on studies. We don't need a government study to know we have a problem and it is in the minds of the ones with the finger on the trigger."

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