Pediatricians may become the trusted middle men between gun owners and non-gun owners when it comes to talks about gun safety, a new study shows.
University of Pennsylvania researchers found parents were more open to politically sensitive discussions about gun locks and other gun safety measures when a child's doctor was involved.
The study offers a possible pathway for reducing the number of firearm injuries and deaths in children across the United States, the researchers said.
"Parents appreciated a collaborative approach to decision-making and the emphasis on child safety," said study lead author Katelin Hoskins, a postdoctoral researcher in the Penn Center for Mental Health.
"Our findings add to a growing evidence base that a nonjudgmental, empathetic, and collaborative approach to firearm storage counseling enhances acceptability and potential effectiveness for behavior change," Hoskins said in a university news release.
The study follows decades of national frustration and congressional inaction on the issue.
Hoskins and her colleagues examined the effectiveness of a firearm safety program called Suicide and Accident prevention through Family Education (S.A.F.E.) Firearm. During an office visit, pediatricians discuss with parents the potential dangers of gun ownership with children in the house. Conversations include the secure storage of guns to keep them out of the hands of kids.
For the study, nearly 100 parents watched a short video of pediatricians in the program speaking to parents on gun safety during the summer of 2020, and answered survey questions afterward.
Overall, parents were very receptive to a pediatrician discussing firearm safety. The study used a 5-point scale to assess the "acceptability" of the concept; it scored an average of 4.35/5. There was little difference in scoring responses between parents who owned firearms (46%) and those who did not.
More than 80% of the participants said they would recommend the program, while 75% said they trusted their pediatrician's advice on gun safety.
Only one third of the gun-owning parents said that their firearms were locked and unloaded with the ammunition stored elsewhere. After going through the S.A.F.E. Firearm program, 64% of parents surveyed said they would change the way their firearms are stored.
Recent tragedies in Buffalo, N.Y., Uvalde, Texas, and Highland Park, Ill., "plus the devastating loss of life due to firearm injuries right here in Philadelphia, underscore the importance of mobilizing across multiple sectors to prevent firearm deaths," Hoskins said.
In addition, "recent data indicating that youth firearm suicide has reached its highest rate in more than 20 years adds additional urgency," she said.
The findings were published recently in the Journal of Applied Research on Children.
Visit the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for more information on gun safety.
SOURCE: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, news release, July 7, 2022