Pediatricians should counsel parents about safe gun storage and advocate for other methods to reduce firearm injuries to children, according to a policy statement released this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The statement (.pdf), which notes that U.S. children are far more likely than kids in other high-income countries to be hurt by guns, is attracting attention in part because of a Florida law, passed last year but subsequently overturned in federal courts, that prohibited clinicians from asking their patients about gun ownership.
Children are safest in homes without guns, the AAP statement notes. It adds that pediatricians should tell parents that storing guns properly (unloaded, in a locked cabinet, with ammunition locked up separately) is the next-best option, providing substantial protection against suicides and unintentional gun injuries to children and teenagers when compared to storing firearms unlocked and loaded.
Stanford pediatric emergency physician Bernard Dannenberg, MD, spoke to Medscape (free subscription required) about why the AAP's policy of involving pediatricians in gun safety was important and appropriate:
"As an emergency room physician I've seen many gunshot wounds, suicides, and homicides that have resulted from the use of guns by children. These injuries and deaths not only damage children but rip families apart," commented pediatrician Bernard Dannenberg, MD, director of the pediatric emergency department at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford in Palo Alto, California.
Dr. Dannenberg noted that conversations with parents about gun safety should be a part of well-child visits. "We counsel parents about everything from nutrition to safe storage of medication, so asking parents about handguns and making suggestions about safely storing them can be part of our job," he said.
"As long as we ask questions about guns in a nonjudgmental way, it can be part of the conversation during a healthcare visit. It's about creating a safe environment for children.
"It's not the job of a pediatrician to tell people how to live their lives, but to point out safe practices," he said.