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U of U study shows doctors may be reluctant to ask parents about guns after mass shootings

(Photo: University of Utah)

SALT LAKE CITY – Are doctors hesitant to talk about gun safety after mass shootings?  New research from the University of Utah shows residents tend to avoid asking questions about guns after these kinds of tragedies.

At the University Pediatric Clinic, doctors ask several questions to parents.  Two of those questions are…

  1. Do you own a gun?
  2. If you do, is it locked?

Researchers looked at the screenings of over 16 thousand visits that happened between January 2017 and July 2018.  In the weeks before the Las Vegas and Parkland shootings, residents asked these questions in about 70 percent of their screenings.  However, that percentage steadily decreased after those events.

“It was about one percent less each week for between two and four months,” according to lead author Dr. Carole Stipelman.

Soon after these shootings, these questions were asked only about 50 percent of the time.  What’s behind this drop?  Stipelman says this study doesn’t pinpoint and exact cause for this.  However, avoidance could be a contributing factor.

She says, “That’s one of the interpretations.  A mass shooting is a community-based trauma, and avoidance is a common response to trauma.”

Doctors say these questions are not meant to be invasive or biased.  Stipelman says 90 percent of the guns that lead to minors being hurt came from someone they know.  However, some parents may believe these questions invade their privacy.

“The medical assistants were asking these questions, and they reported the parents were more comfortable answering if you prefaced it with, ‘These are safety questions that we ask to everybody,’” she says.

Data shows doctors are much more likely to talk about fire alarms than gun safety.  Stipelman says 90 percent of doctors asked parents if their smoke alarms are working during those screenings.  She believes doctors are not very well trained when it comes to the topic of guns.

“That’s not part of medical education, at this point.  We need to create the curriculum,” she says.