Monday, December 22, 2014

Why Your Doctor Is Asking You About Guns

Joseph Cincotta, MD
One of the routine questions I ask my patients during an office visit is whether they have guns in their home. Some of my patients find this intrusive and even offensive, and they are not alone. But my goal, and that of other doctors like myself, is not to judge or debate, but to make sure my patients stay safe and healthy.

Whether or not health professionals should be asking about guns in the home has sparked a national debate. Emotions may run high when there is any conversation that is perceived to challenge one’s right to own and keep a gun, and those emotions can block any further conversation about guns and gun safety.  Health care professionals are not challenging anyone’s Constitutional right to own a gun.  Many health professionals own guns themselves and use them for a variety of recreational activities.  Our focus when we discuss this issue is one of safety, not the right of ownership.  According to a report by NBC News, firearms injured 15,576 children in 2010. And because of frightening statistics like this, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians and other health care professionals counsel patients about gun safety.

When I inquire about guns in the home, it is with the best intentions. I am not calling a parent’s judgment into question, nor am I attempting to interfere with anyone’s right to own guns. But, the fact is that unsecured guns pose a health risk to children. Just as I would counsel parents about car seat safety, I counsel parents about precautions they should take to keep firearms safe.

A few states have enacted laws prohibiting doctors from asking patients about guns in the home. The practice is not prohibited in Pennsylvania, but patients are also not required to disclose whether or not they have guns in the home to their doctor.

For parents or caregivers who have guns in their home, I recommend taking the following precautions:

  • Make sure that guns are unloaded and stored in a locked location, preferably out of a child’s reach and sight.
  • Store ammunition in a different locked location from the gun, preferably out of a child’s reach and sight.
  • Keep keys and combinations hidden from children.
  • Do not leave your gun unattended when it is not locked up.
  • Use gun locks.
  • Do not leave guns, loaded or unloaded, anywhere where a child can access them (nightstand, table, etc.)
  • Talk to older children about gun safety. Let them know that they should tell an adult immediately if they find one.
  • Talk to your child’s other caregivers about gun safety.
When it comes to gun accidents involving children, there are very few second chances. A high percentage of accidental shootings result in death. Remember, when your doctor asks about guns in the home, they have your family’s best interests in mind.

For more information about gun safety


  1. Should not everyone be made aware of firearms safety? Why not dispense with the questioning and inform all your patients about the risks as they relate to their health and the health of others? Your knowledge of their ownership status should not be a prerequisite for the conversation.

    1. I totally agree. It is a private matter for gun ownership. All patients should have firearm safety reviewed, not just those who claim ownership.

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