Why do doctors care if you have guns in the home?
Do you know if there are guns in the homes where your children play? How about where they go for childcare? Do you have a gun in your home or your car? Is it stored unloaded, locked, and with its ammunition locked away separately?
Do these seem like strange questions coming from a pediatrician? Not to me. After all, I’m going to ask you about other potentially dangerous items you use in your life. I’ll ask about proper car seat use, tobacco exposure, pool fences, pet safety measures, stair gates, and use of helmets when on bikes or scooters. I’ll remind you to set your water heaters to no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. I’ll ask your teen all kinds of sensitive yet important questions. The gun thing is just one part of the broad safety message that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.
Nevertheless, people wonder what I “do” with that information. Do I record your answers? Am I mandated to send that data into the government? Does it in some way flag your chart? Will it affect your insurance or make you liable in some way? Yes, I will document that I’ve asked and you’ve answered about your child’s exposure to a firearm. No, that data is not used collectively or personally against (or for) you. At this time, firearm exposure, unlike smoking status, is not a federally required question to satisfy something called “Meaningful Use” — a government and insurance measurement of my performance.
Why do I think these questions are important? Well, that’s more complicated. I know these questions are important because toddlers in the US have shot themselves or other people at least once a week every week so far this year.
I know that toddlers, with their insatiable curiosity, will examine and pull the trigger on an unsecured gun, no matter what they have been instructed to do. I know that many people have firearms tucked away for years and never think about making sure they’re secure once a little one comes along. I also know that nearly all the accidental deaths in children attributable to firearms happen in the home and that of these deaths, the great majority would have been prevented if the firearm had been stored safely.
It’s my job as your pediatrician to help you understand common dangers and how they relate to your new role as a parent. While firearms might have existed in one context in your home before the arrival of children, now that you have little ones, there are new issues. My goal is to help you think of those possible hazards before they arise, keeping your child and the people around them safe from accidental injury.
If you do own firearms and this is your first experience having a child around consider just a few simple steps:
- Is the firearm stored in a locked location accessible only to you?
- Is the firearm stored unloaded?
- Is the ammunition stored in a locked location separate from the firearm?
- Is your firearm equipped with a trigger lock? Is it being used appropriately?
- Are there guns in the homes where your children play (Grandma’s, Nanny’s, next door neighbor, etc)? Have they taken the same steps you have to prevent access to the firearms by children?