Andrew Colley, a father of 5, is aware of the risks of gun ownership. At home, he frequently talks with his children about firearm safety. He also follows strict rules and safety measures for storing his firearms, such as locking unloaded guns and ammunition in separate locations.
Still, he was surprised when his children’s pediatrician brought up safe firearm storage as part of a larger conversation about safety in the home.
“During a routine visit, my child’s doctor talked with me about gun ownership and safe storage in a nonjudgmental way,” Colley said. “She focused on the safety of everyone in the household, especially the kids.”
Firearm injuries are a leading cause of death among children and teens. Given that 1 in 3 households in the United States has firearms, many injuries — including self-inflicted harm, accidental shootings, and school shootings — might be prevented with safe storage. Many parents may wonder how to keep their children safe from harm — at home, at school, and with friends.
Sabrina Perrino, MD, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente, includes safe firearm storage discussions when asking parents about overall safety in the home.
“I frame gun safety in the same way I would talk with a parent about potential dangers in the home, like pool safety to prevent accidental drownings or securing furniture to prevent tip-overs,” Dr. Perrino said. “While I’m speaking as an expert on children’s health and preventive care, I’m also coming from a place of wanting to help parents keep their families safe.”
A valuable ripple effect of having firearm safety conversations in a clinical setting is how parents and kids share information with their family and friends after their appointment.
Dr. Perrino encourages her patients to share what they’ve learned about gun safety. “I say to them, ‘Now that we’ve talked about it, when you see your cousins, or your little brother or sister, you can teach them about being safe.’ I’m trying to teach my patients so that they will feel confident to help other people they know.”
Colley learned how important it is to talk about gun safety with other adults his kids spend time with, like their grandparents or their friends’ parents.
“Keeping kids safe is a goal for all parents, so talking about gun safety helps,” said Colley. “Having an open conversation about safe firearm storage focused on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ is one thing I can do as a parent to have some control over the immediate environment surrounding my children.”
A 5-month pilot program conducted with pediatricians at the Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center showed clinicians can have positive, productive patient safety conversations at the point of care.
According to Robert Riewerts, MD, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente and lead for the study, “Parents don’t want to be singled out or feel judged for having firearms in the home. Parents who participated in the pilot welcomed nonjudgmental discussions that focus on safety.”
This study was part of Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to reducing the incidence and effects of gun violence, which includes the recent establishment of our Center for Gun Violence Research and Education.