Loaded questions: Internet commenters' opinions on physician-patient firearm safety conversations

Christopher E. Knoepke, Amanda Allen, Megan L. Ranney, Garen J Wintemute, Daniel D. Matlock, Marian E. Betz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Introduction: Medical and public health societies advocate that healthcare providers (HCPs) counsel at-risk patients to reduce firearm injury risk. Anonymous online media comments often contain extreme viewpoints and may therefore help in understanding challenges of firearm safety counseling. To help inform injury prevention efforts, we sought to examine commenters' stated opinions regarding firearm safety counseling HCPs. Methods: Qualitative descriptive analysis of online comments posted folowing news items (in May- June, 2016) about a peer-reviewed publication addressing when and how HCPs should counsel patients regarding firearms. Results: Among 871 comments posted by 522 individuals, most (57%) were generally negative toward firearm discussions, 17% were positive, and 26% were neutral/unclear. Two major categories and multiple themes emerged. "Areas of agreement" included that discussions may be valuable (1) when addressing risk of harm to self or others, (2) in pediatric injury prevention, and (3) as general safety education (without direct questioning), and that (4) HCPs lack gun safety and cultural knowledge. "Areas of tension" included whether (1) firearms are a public health issue, (2) counseling is effective prevention practice, (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 generally negative toward firearm safety conversations, but with some support in specific situations. Providing education, counseling, or materials without asking about firearm ownership was encouraged. Engaging firearm advocates when developing materials may enhance the acceptability of prevention activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)903-912
Number of pages10
JournalWestern Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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