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NEWS | October 16, 2017

What physicians can do to stop mass shootings and firearm violence

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.)

In the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting, many ask what can be done to prevent these tragedies.

In an editorial and article published Oct. 16, Annals of Internal Medicine editors along with Garen Wintemute, an emergency room physician and authority on gun violence prevention, urge physicians and health-care providers to make public commitments to ask patients about firearms, counsel them on safe firearm behaviors and take further action when an imminent hazard is present.

To that end, there is an online form where physicians can declare their commitment to help stop firearm violence. They set their own goals for the number of patients they intend to ask in a given period of time and self-assess their follow-through. There is also a box physicians can check to obtain more information and give permission to have Dr, Wintemute and his staff at the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program reach out directly to address their specific concerns.

Physicians’ commitments will be posted as comments to Dr. Wintemute’s commentary at http://annals.org/aim/article/doi/10.7326/M17-2672.

“Violence is not distributed at random,” Wintemute writes. “People who commit firearm violence – whether against others or themselves – and people who sustain it often have well-recognized risk factors, which often brings these high-risk individuals into contact with physicians.

“These risk factors include abuse of alcohol and controlled substances, acute injury, a history of violence, including a suicide attempt, poorly controlled severe mental illness, an abusive partner and serious life stressors,” he said.

 Studies have shown that as many as 45 percent of patients who commit suicide have seen their primary care provider within a month of their deaths, and older patients have frequently disclosed their intent to kill themselves.

“While physicians acknowledge that they should talk about firearms with patients, and their patients agree, it isn’t done for a variety of reasons,” Wintemute said. “We hope these public commitments will help prevent firearm-related deaths and injuries.”

His message to physicians is, “Please make your commitment. There is no better time, and it's the right thing to do.”

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The UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program conducts research and develops policy focused on the causes, consequences and prevention of violence. It has a particular focus on firearm violence, and on the connections between violence, substance abuse and mental illness.

NOTE: Copies of the editorial and article are available through the American College of Physicians media relations office and online at http://annals.org/aim/article/doi/10.7326/M17-2672 and http://annals.org/aim/article/doi/10.7326/M17-2714.