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August 8, 2002


Emory Physicians Urge Handgun Dealers to Inform Purchasers About Safe Storage

Unintentional firearm injuries and deaths involving children are potentially preventable through a combination of personal and public measures, say two Emory University emergency medicine physicians. The editorial, published in the August issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, addresses the issue of the responsibility of handgun dealers to inform purchasers of the risk of guns around children and the need for safe storage of all guns.

Harold K. Simon, M.D., a pediatric emergency physician at Emory University School of Medicine and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, authored the editorial with Arthur Kellermann, M.D., M.P.H., chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine and director of Emory's Center for Injury Control.

Drs. Simon and Kellermann suggest that firearm dealers have a unique opportunity to share safe storage information with purchasers, even at the cost of losing potential business. Even pediatricians and other health care professionals, they note, are urged by the American Academy of Pediatrics to inform parents of the dangers of keeping guns in the home.

Dr. Simon's and Dr. Kellermann's editorial accompanies a study in the same issue about consumer education by gun dealers. Sandra M. Sanguino, M.D., M.P.H from Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago and her research colleagues posed as would-be handgun purchasers in two states and visited a variety of gun dealers in two metropolitan areas. The purpose of the study was to explore the type and quality of handgun safety information a typical consumer would obtain from a licensed gun dealer. Of the 96 dealers surveyed, only 9% of the dealers offered comprehensive advice about safe storage, i.e. keeping the gun securely locked, keeping the gun unloaded, and storing the gun separately from the ammunition.

"Given the risk of unintentional injuries when a child finds an improperly stored gun, this is just another article that highlights yet another missed opportunity to educate the public about the potential risks of guns around children," says Dr. Simon.

Drs. Simon and Kellermann note that in Massachusetts, the attorney general's Handgun Sales Regulations require that a safety warning and disclosure be shared with the purchaser at the time a handgun is sold.

But, they ask in the editorial, will a measure such as mandatory disclosures do any good?

"There is also the possibility that such regulations, although not necessarily affecting behavior, might simply increase the legal immunity of gun dealers and manufacturers from lawsuits if a child is subsequently injured or killed by the gun," the authors write.

"Ultimately gun owners need to be aware of the risk of unintentional injury when children have access to guns. Therefore, it is the hope that gun dealers would fully inform potential purchasers of these risks," says Dr. Simon.

Dr. Simon and Dr. Kellermann were co-investigators of a study that highlighted the high-risk behavior of boys age 8-12 who found a gun in a presumably safe environment. The results, published in the June 2001 issue of the journal Pediatrics, concluded that many boys age 8 to 12 will handle a gun and even pull the trigger if they find one.

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