Before you counsel patients, consider your knowledge of the topic. Be ready to answer questions or refer patients to another source for more information when necessary. It might be helpful to review your state's firearm laws and your institution’s policy regarding carrying firearms on hospital campuses.

If you need further information, see an overview of firearm laws or other additional materials on provider counseling.

    We recommend an approach to firearm counseling that:

      • Relates clearly to the patient’s health and wellbeing
      • Acknowledges local firearm customs and and reasons for firearm ownership
      • Is unique to the patient and context-specific
      • Is respectful, educational, and conversational
      • Happens within an established patient-physician relationship, when possible
      • Includes appropriate follow-up

    To maximize receptiveness, take a respectful and collaborative approach.

    Firearm ownership may reflect longstanding values and beliefs. Keep in mind that many firearm owners take firearm safety seriously. Frame the discussion in the context of the patient’s wellbeing and involve the patient in the conversation.

    Risk for firearm injury and death change as circumstances in the home change. Re-evaluating the risk of firearm injury and death in the home to reflect current circumstances—such as who lives in the home, and any frequent visitors or guests who belong to high-risk groups—is an important step for the safety of everyone in a home with firearms.

    As with other screening conversations, this conversation might be difficult for some patients.

    Be prepared to explain why you’re asking about firearms and what you will do with the patient’s answers. Reassure the patient that the information will remain confidential unless there’s an immediate emergency, and that your interest is at all times in the health and safety of the patient and the patient’s loved ones.

    This content is adapted from Yes, You Can: Physicians, Patients, and Firearms by Wintemute, et al.