Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 34, Issue 8, pp 1637–1640 | Cite as

Physicians Should Play a Role in Ensuring Safe Firearm Ownership

  • Stephen R. HoltEmail author
  • Julie Rosenbaum
  • Matthew Ellman
  • Benjamin Doolittle
  • Daniel G. Tobin


The USA is unique among industrialized nations in its dramatic rate of firearm violence. Unfortunately, firearm-related issues in America are politically divisive and fraught with controversy, thus impeding the study and implementation of safety strategies. Despite the lack of consensus, there is agreement that firearms should be kept away from individuals with criminal intent and those who are dangerous due to medical impairment. While predicting criminal intent remains challenging, assessment of medical impairment remains a viable target. One approach in which physicians could contribute their expertise includes training a subset of doctors to perform specialized medical evaluations as a prerequisite for gun ownership. Such a process is not unprecedented, as physicians currently have a role in protecting the public’s safety through assessments for commercial drivers, pilots, and train operators. Certified physician examiners could conduct these evaluations with a focus on evaluating objective, skill-based metrics to limit potential evaluator bias. The results of the medical evaluation would then be considered by an existing regulatory body to determine if disqualifying criteria are present. This proposal provides a mechanism for trained physicians to meaningfully participate in addressing an alarming public health issue, while still working within existing legal frameworks.


gun violence public health evaluation functional status 



The authors wish to thank Stephen Latham, JD, PhD, for his assistance with developing this piece.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen R. Holt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Julie Rosenbaum
    • 1
  • Matthew Ellman
    • 1
  • Benjamin Doolittle
    • 1
  • Daniel G. Tobin
    • 1
  1. 1.Yale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA

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