Nurses' Questions About Guns Could Save Lives

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media , April 9, 2013

For example, 64% said they would almost always ask if the patient had an actual plan to commit suicide with a gun. But only

  • 9% would ask if the patient had overdosed but was no longer suicidal
  • 22% would ask if the patient was suicidal but had no suicide plan
  • 21% would ask if the patient was suicidal with a non-firearm plan
  • 16% would ask if the patient had been suicidal in past month but was not today

The study also showed that 72% of nurses and 49% of doctors said they 'hardly ever' personally counsel patients or families to remove or lock up guns at home.

Asking, "Do you have access to firearms?" seems like a simple question. Yet at the same time, it can be a dangerous, personal, and politically charged query.

In the weeks following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, I spoke with ANA president Karen Daley, who told me that the issue of gun control isn't necessarily a political one, but it is one which nurses have a responsibility to take the lead in addressing.

"This is a public health issue," she said. "This is a safety issue for families."

She told me that nurses regularly counsel patients about everything from the importance of wearing seatbelts and sunscreen to quitting smoking. Moreover, nursing groups often weigh in on issues that affect the health of our society.

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3 comments on "Nurses' Questions About Guns Could Save Lives"

Gus Geraci, MD (4/19/2013 at 2:19 PM)
Part of the "standard" evaluation of a suicidal patient is, "If you were going to do it, how would you do it?" The rating of suicidality goes WAY up, if the patient says, "Well, I have access to guns and ammunition." That's not the issue. The issue is what to do with that information. Warning friends and family and removing the guns does not remove the risk, because a determined person will find a way. We can not force a person to accept care. Now imagine the person has said they want to kill others...

LJH (4/10/2013 at 10:02 AM)
In my area of rural America, I would guess well over 75% of the population has access to a firearm of some sort - a hunting rifle, shotgun, etc. As an ED nurse for more than seven years, (and a nurse for more than 25) I never asked the question because I assumed the answer would always be yes. And what would I do with the information? Am I allowed to tell the family members of a competent patient that he may have suicidal thoughts, but no specific plan? Do I come out of the room and tell the parents of the 19 year old to lock up their guns with no explanation? How about the woman who lives alone and says she accidently overdosed on her pain meds, then tells me she has a handgun for protection? I'm really unclear what action the study authors believe could be done.

Kent (4/9/2013 at 9:15 PM)
I understand the logic here, and we must do what we can, but a gun is still an inanimate object. We council against smoking (bad for you) and about wearing sun screen (recommended), but do healthcare professionals ask if cigarettes or sun screen are present in the home? Perhaps... But in my experience (and unfortunately both my parents committed suicide); those committed to doing so rarely talk about it (mine did not) and it is easy enough to do without a firearm (sad I know). Remove one inanimate object (gun) from the equation and they will find another means of doing it (knife). Guns are not a public health issue; no more than cars or cheeseburgers or motorcycles (all of which likely kill or injure more people). The improper use of each is at the core of the discussion. Maybe we should consider obtaining licenses for cheeseburgers??




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