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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Loaded Questions: Internet Commenters’ Opinions on Physician-Patient Firearm Safety Conversations

  • Author(s): Knoepke, Christopher E.;
  • Allen, Amanda;
  • Ranney, Megan L.;
  • Wintemute, Garen J.;
  • Matlock, Daniel D.;
  • Betz, Marian E.
  • et al.

Introduction: Medical and public health societies advocate that healthcare providers (HCPs) counselat-risk patients to reduce firearm injury risk. Anonymous online media comments often contain extremeviewpoints and may therefore help in understanding challenges of firearm safety counseling. To helpinform injury prevention efforts, we sought to examine commenters’ stated opinions regarding firearmsafety counseling HCPs.

Methods: Qualitative descriptive analysis of online comments posted following news items (in May-June, 2016) about a peer-reviewed publication addressing when and how HCPs should counsel patientsregarding firearms.

Results: Among 871 comments posted by 522 individuals, most (57%) were generally negative towardfirearm discussions, 17% were positive, and 26% were neutral/unclear. Two major categories andmultiple themes emerged. “Areas of agreement” included that discussions may be valuable (1) whenaddressing risk of harm to self or others, (2) in pediatric injury prevention, and (3) as general safetyeducation (without direct questioning), and that (4) HCPs lack gun safety and cultural knowledge. “Areasof tension” included whether (1) firearms are a public health issue, (2) counseling is effective preventionpractice, (3) suicide could/should be prevented, and (4) firearm safety counseling is within HCPs’ purview.

Conclusion: Among this set of commenters with likely extreme viewpoints, opinions were generallynegative toward firearm safety conversations, but with some support in specific situations. Providingeducation, counseling, or materials without asking about firearm ownership was encouraged. Engagingfirearm advocates when developing materials may enhance the acceptability of prevention activities.[West J Emerg Med. 2017;18(5)903-912.]

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