Doctors should be talking to parents about firearms, says Canadian Paediatric Society

The Canadian Paediatric Society has released a new position statement saying health professionals should ask families if they have firearms in their homes.

"The availability of firearms to youth is an important factor in adolescent suicide, homicide, unintentional firearm deaths, and school shootings," said Dr. Katherine Austin, author of the CPS statement. "We need to ask about the presence of firearms in the home and, when there is one, inform parents of the risks."

The full report goes further to say that physicians must make parents aware of the risks of guns and counsel them to keep them away from where children live and play, and if they are in the home, that they be unloaded with a trigger lock or locked away and stored separate from the ammunition.

It adds if a child is at risk or struggling with mood disorders, substance abuse or self-harm, it is even more important to have the conversation, and it recommends that in these cases firearms be removed.

The release points to a study from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and The Hospital for Sick Children, published on March 27, that found that a child or youth is shot every day in Ontario, with 75 per cent of the injuries being unintentional.

Mental health experts on board

The position is popular with the Canadian Mental Health Association, which feels suicide prevention requires a comprehensive approach involving doctors, caregivers and schools. 

"Everyone has a role to play, and we fully support physicians and other practitioners to engage these kind of conversations," said CMHA national CEO Dr. Patrick Smith. 

Smith said he understands some physicians may not feel equipped to have the conversations, but to bring it up will help to eventually normalize the conversations around the risk and suicide.

"Physicians are talking often with parents about the risks of poison or accidental drinking of Drano, something like that for young kids, and that's been normalized in the conversation for physicians," he said.

Smith also echoed the concern in the report that children may not have the cognitive development to know when a gun is fake, or the impulse control not to handle it. 

"Sometimes these impulses can be very fleeting but if you have access to a firearm, it doesn't take very long for that impulse to end in a negative situation."

Health PEI already talking about firearms

Health PEI says public health nurses have been discussing firearms with families for a few years now. 

"Public Health Nursing does include screening for firearms as part of its pre-school health clinics," said Kathy Jones, Health PEI Director of Public Health, Women's Wellness and Children's Developmental Services.

"We have firearm safety as a discussion topic to guide nurses at our clinics for children aged two, four, six, and 12 months. We are also in the process of integrating this as part of our clinics for children four years of age."

There is also web content, developed when Health PEI adopted the Rourke Baby Record, a nationally recognized baby assessment tool. 

Laws already in place, say P.E.I. gun hobbyists

"Doctors need to focus on medicine," said Charles Bachmanek, president of the Prince Edward Island Provincial Rifle Association.

He feels that papers like this one may make people think negatively of those who obey the rules. 

"The article is another assault on legal firearm ownership by attempting to lay society's ills and shortcomings at the feet of legal firearm owners," he said. 

"There are strict laws, regulations in place already that govern the legal acquisition, ownership, use, transport, and storage of firearms. As a condition of legal ownership these are all obeyed by legal firearms users."

More from government

The CPS also urged that all levels of governments legislate stricter rules around acquisition and transport as well as ownership and storage of firearms, including regulation of air guns and pellet guns with lower projectile velocities under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act.

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