For Immediate Release - February 13, 2017

AG Healey, Massachusetts Medical Society Announce Resources for Health Care Providers to Discuss Gun Safety with Patients

Voluntary Online Training Program and Brochures Developed to Provide Information About Gun Safety and Public Health

BOSTON – Looking to provide resources to health care providers who wish to take a more active approach to engaging their patients in discussions about gun safety, Attorney General Maura Healey has partnered with the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) to develop informative brochures and a voluntary online training program to support providers in their efforts to prevent gun-related accidents, self-harm, and violence.

The materials announced today at the Boston Medical Center – and endorsed by the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police – are the product of a working group of physicians and other health professionals established last year, who were concerned about a lack of available information about guns and gun safety in order to engage with patients.

“Most medical professionals believe that they can have an important role in preventing gun-related injury and death, and yet screening and counseling about guns remain uncommon,” AG Healey said. “While the vast majority of gun owners are responsible and deeply committed to gun safety, this remains a public health issue, and conversations between patients and health care providers are critically important to preventing gun-related injury and death. We are pleased to partner with the Massachusetts Medical Society in developing these materials for health care providers, who are uniquely situated to engage their patients about keeping themselves and their families safe.”

Pamphlets with information for patients about gun safety, and for providers about conversations about firearms, will be both printed and available online. A voluntary Continuing Medical Education (CME) program has also been designed for interested providers who want additional information and training on this topic. MMS will host a for-credit version of the CME on its website.

“Gun violence is a major public health threat,” said Massachusetts Medical Society President James S. Gessner, M.D., “and physicians can play a key role in curbing the violence by educating patients about the risks of gun ownership and encouraging our colleagues to talk to their patients. We are honored to work with the Attorney General and law enforcement officials in efforts to make gun ownership safer and reduce deaths and injuries attributable to guns.”

“At Boston Medical Center, we see the tragic consequences of gun violence all too often,” said Kate Walsh, president and CEO of the Boston Medical Center. “Because of that, our doctors and nurses know that gun safety is nothing less than a public health issue. That’s why Boston Medical Center is so pleased to participate in the development of this training to help physicians talk to their patients about the safe handling and storage of guns. As a health care community, we are fully committed to ending gun violence in Massachusetts, starting in every home, and in every doctor’s visit.”

“Many households in our country have guns, but they can cause harm if not handled properly,” Chief James DiGianvittorio, President of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. “We require the bearer of a license to carry permit to take required safety course, however, many times other family members have no formal training. This program will at the very least open the door to conversations between physicians and patients on the risk factors associated with firearms related injuries.” 

“Law enforcement all too often respond to a call after a gun-related injury, whether accidental or intentional, occurs,” said Chief Brian Kyes, President of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs Association. “We know that prevention is key and we are pleased to support this program that will equip interested healthcare providers with the tools and resources to talk to their patients about critical safety issues to prevent gun injuries from happening in the first place.”

The CME covers a range of topics for health care providers who routinely inquire and counsel patients about health-related behaviors, conditions, and risks. Topics include information about gun-licensing laws and reporting obligations, guidance on patient privacy, how to approach certain conversations, and clinical scenarios to consider. It is designed to help providers approach their patients in a respectful, clinically appropriate way about the safe storage of guns and the mitigation of any household risk factors. 

Pamphlet information encourages health care providers to talk to their patients about gun safety within the home – just as they would with any other potentially dangerous household risk such as chemicals in cleaning supplies, backyard pools, alcohol and cigarettes, prescription medication, or fire hazards. Other topics include making guns less accessible to children and anyone with a behavioral health condition, disposing of an unwanted gun, and advice on what to do when a gun owner is at risk of violence, suicide, or accidental injury.

As part of AG Healey’s work to prevent crime and make communities safer in Massachusetts, a top priority of her office has been working to end illegal gun sales and keeping guns away from dangerous people.

This year, the AG’s Office reached agreements with a gun dealer from Worcester and a gun dealer from Sutton for illegal sales practices in violation of state gun laws and regulations.

In December 2015, AG Healey sent a letter  to all 350 state gun dealers reminding them of their obligations under state law. Last year, she led a multi-state effort urging Congress to lift the ban on gun-violence research by the Centers for Disease Control.

Last July, AG Healey issued a notice to gun manufacturers and licensed dealers in Massachusetts, warning that her office is stepping up enforcement of the state’s assault weapons ban, including a crackdown on new sales of copycat weapons. Since then, illegal sales of assault weapons have stopped in the state.

The project announced today was handled for the AG’s Office by Jon Miller, Chief of AG Healey’s Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau, Abigail Taylor, Assistant Attorney General in AG Healey’s Child & Youth Protection Unit, and Benjamin Golden, Assistant Attorney General in AG Healey’s Consumer Protection Division, with assistance from Kevin McCarthy, Chief of AG Healey’s Civil Investigations Division, and Assistant Attorney General Christina Chan of AG Healey’s Trial Division.


Statements of Support

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo
“Massachusetts has the most effective gun laws in the nation and the best doctors in the nation. The 2014 gun safety law included provisions that heighten training for health care providers and ensures the Department of Public Health collects and analyzes data on suicides caused by guns. Through today’s initiative, we’re leveraging our existing resources to make the Commonwealth an even safer and healthier place. I thank the Attorney General and the medical community for their dedication and foresight in treating gun violence as a public health issue.”

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan
“Raising awareness about best safety practices for gun owners is an important part of protecting public safety and preventing gun-related accidents. With the release of today’s materials medical professionals and their patients will have access to important information to help normalize the inclusion of gun safety questions in routine Doctor-patient health risk conversations.”

Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley
“The preventable harm cause by gun-related injury and death is an urgent issue for public safety, a public policy, and public health professionals. Sensible legislation and effective enforcement have made Massachusetts a national leader in reducing gun fatalities. Bringing clinicians into the overall strategy will reduce them even further. Attorney General Healey and the Massachusetts Medical Society deserve praise for this partnership, which will improve our statewide approach to preventing firearm violence, accidents, and self-harm across the Commonwealth.”

Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey
“Developing the connections between public safety and public health is critical to ensuring responsible gun ownership and reducing gun violence in our communities. I applaud Attorney General Maura Healey and the Massachusetts Medical Society for working together to establish these resources for health care providers and advance new strategies to keep families and communities safe.

Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz
“For years now, Attorney General Maura Healey has been a fierce advocate and ally in her work to reduce gun violence in the Bay State. I thank her for bringing together Massachusetts law enforcement and the medical community to collaborate in everyday ways to advance that work.”

Senator Jason Lewis
“As a matter of public health and public safety, medical professionals have an important role to play in communicating about gun safety. Additionally, responsible gun owners know that gun ownership goes hand in hand with gun safety.  I’m pleased to support this joint effort between Attorney General Maura Healey and the Massachusetts Medical Society because it will increase education and strengthen public health.”

Representative Byron Rushing
“I support the Attorney General’s efforts to encourage physicians to talk to their patients about gun safety. Preventing injury by firearms is a public health issue and needs to be talked about with patients in the array of preventive medicine. This guidance will be especially useful for those doctors and nurses who did not have these issues included in their schooling and training. It can only strengthen the patient-provider relationship.”

Representative Hank Naughton
“Congratulations to Attorney General Healey, the Chiefs Associations and the Massachusetts Medical Society for making gun safety in the home such a priority. This is an effort that all of the stakeholders in this debate can agree upon. Keep up the good work.”

Representative David P. Linsky
“Gun violence is a public health issue and offering this material to physicians provides a first line of defense to help combat this epidemic. I am grateful to the Attorney General and Mass Medical Society for their work developing and disseminating this vital information that will hopefully save lives here in the Commonwealth.”

Representative Liz Malia
“Annually on average 33,500 gun deaths occur, and sadly two-thirds are suicides. Gun violence is a public health issue. I'm grateful to Attorney General Healey for her leadership and work to ensure our clinicians have the materials and training to identify and address the potential risk factors for accidental or intentional gun violence – like unsecured weapons, mental illness, suicidality or domestic violence.”

Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association Vice President for Physician Integration Steven Defossez 
“The Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association applauds the Attorney General and MMS for their active efforts to increase physician-patient conversations about gun safety. As MHA has broadened its mission to include matters of public and population health, the risks associated with guns in the home are of increasing concern. While Massachusetts has the lowest rate of gun deaths in the country, more than 700 people are injured and 225 people are killed by guns in our Commonwealth each year. Physicians should be able to discuss gun safety with our patients in the same way we discuss helmet use for motorcycle or bike riding, mental health status, or other health risk factors.” 

Peter Ambler, Executive Director, Americans for Responsible Solutions
“Our nation's gun violence epidemic is a public health crisis that demands an important conversation between doctors and patients about the importance of responsible gun ownership. We thank the Massachusetts Medical Society and the diverse group of health professionals who helped develop these important, life-saving resources, and we applaud Attorney General Healey for her unwavering commitment to making Massachusetts safer.”

Liam Lowney, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance
“Medical professionals play an essential role in ensuring the safety of their patients. The private and uninterrupted discussions doctors and nurses have with patients allow an opportunity to identify violence in the home and offer critical support and resources. The presence of a firearm in a family experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse can exacerbate fear felt by those present and can create lethal outcomes for victims. It is essential that medical staff have the training, knowledge and understanding to engage in a thoughtful and honest dialogue with their patients about safety when gun access has been identified. This initiative, announced by Attorney General Healey and the Massachusetts Medical Society, empowers medical staff to inform patients about their options to remain safe, prevent injury from firearms, and live free from violence.”