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Firearm Injury Prevention Survey Finds Common Ground among ACS Members

OCTOBER 29, 2019
Clinical Congress Daily Highlights, Tuesday Early Edition


As the cause of 39,773 deaths in 2017 — more than either falls or vehicle crashes — firearms are a substantial contributor to trauma-related death and disability in the United States. To better understand the opinions of ACS members on firearm injury prevention, the ACS Committee on Trauma recently conducted an opinion survey of the full membership.

Ronald M. Stewart, MD, FACS, medical director of Trauma Programs, American College of Surgeons, described the survey approach, highlighting its emphasis on including all points of view. The survey, which was designed, implemented, and analyzed by a professional survey team, was sent out to all 54,759 U.S. members of the ACS. The response rate was 20.4 percent, which Dr. Stewart said is typical of this type of survey. Of the respondents, 21.1 percent were female, 30 percent practice in rural locations, and 42 percent had firearms stored in the home.

About half of all respondents said they consider firearms both beneficial and harmful. About 45 percent also expressed the view that firearm ownership neither protects nor limits personal liberty. These results represent room for consensus on a nationally polarized issue, Dr. Stewart said. He went on to present data on how members feel about an array of issues including firearm legislation, rights of healthcare providers to counsel patients about firearm safety, advocacy for firearm injury prevention research, mandatory safety trainings, background checks, allowing trained teachers to carry concealed guns in school, mental health, age restrictions, a federal firearm sales database, restricting access to high-capacity magazines, increasing penalties, and more. Greater than 75 percent of ACS members said they support firearm injury prevention advocacy. Dr. Stewart noted opportunities for consensus around firearm safety, violence intervention strategies, and research.

Brendan Thomas Campbell, MD, MPH, FACS, Hartford Hospital, Hartford CT, discussed how the data break down when respondents are separated into groups based on firearm ownership. Firearm owners and non-owners agreed on the value of enhancing the National Instant Criminal Background Check system, as well as background checks for all firearm purchases. They also agreed on preventing people with mental illness from purchasing firearms and enabling law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others. They disagreed on whether guns are harmful or beneficial, whether healthcare professionals should have the right to counsel patients on safe firearm ownership, on allowing trained teachers to carry firearms, and restricting access to high-capacity magazine-fed semi-automatic rifles. Dr. Campbell noted that “gun owners must be engaged if we are going to successfully address this public health problem.”

Deborah Ann Kuhls, MD, FACS, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, examined the effect of gender on survey responses. She found that males and females generally aligned in opinion. There was some disagreement on how harmful or beneficial firearms are, and on restricting access to high-capacity magazine-fed semi-automatic rifles.

Dr. Kuhls highlighted the value of this research, stating that the data will help the ACS refine and develop its strategy toward firearm injury prevention based on the opinions of members. The data may also help identify novel initiatives that can be broadly supported by members. Dr. Stewart added that he believes we can reduce firearm injuries, but only through research, data, and partnerships.

The team plans to publish its results to the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

Additional Information:

The Scientific Session, ACS Membership Survey Results on Firearm Injury Prevention, was held Tuesday, October 29 at the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress 2019 in San Francisco (program, webcast and audio information).