The United States continues to struggle with an epidemic of firearm violence: in 2016, there were more than 38,000 deaths caused by firearms, with firearm-related suicide deaths outnumbering firearm-related homicides by a large margin.
- Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in 2016, and firearms accounted for almost half of those deaths, with older white men at the highest risk.
- Homicide is the leading cause of death for male and female African Americans aged 10–34 years, and firearm-related homicide is highest among young African American men.
- The economic burden of firearm death and injury is substantial, reaching approximately $229 billion in aggregate costs and representing about 1.4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.
Physicians are in a unique position to assess risk, provide education and change behaviors related to firearm violence, and they may also address this issue more broadly as a consumer safety and public health issue.
As a result, in 2017, the California Medical Association (CMA) convened the Firearm Violence Prevention Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), composed of physician experts to identify opportunities and resources that may aid physicians in addressing firearm violence as a public health issue. In addition to a policy statement, the TAC compiled the following ways for physicians to get involved:
Take the pledge. Make a commitment to ask your patients about firearms when, in your judgment, it is appropriate, and follow through with support and resources to keep patients safe. Click here to see what you can do, as physicians, to help stop firearms violence. Or, visit the new What You Can Do site, produced by the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program, which offers information and support for providers looking for ways to reduce firearm injury and death, particularly among patients at elevated risk.
Educate yourself and your patients. Expanded education and training are needed to improve clinician familiarity with the benefits and risks of firearm ownership, safety practices, and communication with patients about firearm violence. There is a growing body of literature and resources available to initiate patient discussions and support patient education on firearm safety and storage, including best practices to reduce injuries, deaths and psychological trauma related to firearm use:
Support research. The suppression of firearm research has stripped federal and state funding for data surveillance, research and analysis, and prevented the advancement of evidence-based policies as benefiting other major public health issues. Discover the latest from the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program.
Recognize warning signs and respond appropriately to patients with mental illness – they are at higher risk for suicide and to be a victim of violence, and access to firearms is associated with increased suicide risk.
Understand your legal obligations to report. Physicians should know their legal obligations for reporting specified medical conditions and the clinical interventions that might restrict a patient’s ability to own or possess a firearm.