Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode


Hosted by Editor in Chief Lorenzo Norris, MD, Psychcast features mental health care professionals discussing the issues that most affect psychiatry.

Jul 8, 2020

Jack Rozel, MD, MSL, returns to the Psychcast, this time to discuss with host Lorenzo Norris, MD, how to think about guns, gun violence, and the intersection with mental health.

Dr. Rozel is medical director of resolve crisis services at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center/Western Psychiatric Hospital and president of the American Association for Emergency Psychiatry. He has no conflicts of interest but has worked for a gun dealer to teach sales staff how to recognize people in crisis – rather than sell a gun. Dr. Norris has no disclosures.  

Take-home points

  • In the United States, more guns were sold in the month leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic than were ever sold in 1 month since gun sales were recorded.
  • Suicide risk with a new gun in the home peaks in the first days to weeks of ownership and then trails off, but there is a measurable difference in risk of suicide in the 5 years after the purchase.
  • Any surge in gun sales leads to greater accidental deaths and homicides from firearms.
  • Rozel reminds clinicians to ask their patients (again) about guns. A good question to start is: “Are there guns in the home or new guns in the home?” He also asks about gun storage and the number of guns. Dr. Rozel goes through the basics of gun safety, such as handling a gun only while sober; securing the gun in a locked box unless the owner/responsible adult is holding it; using a responsible means to carry the gun, such as a holster; and not handling the gun like a toy.
    • If a patient is under financial pressure, the clinician might gently suggest that a way to remove some of that pressure might be to sell a weapon to a licensed gun dealer.


  • It is likely that fear and uncertainty of the future with broad social disorder are influencing gun sales. Most of the gun sales during the pandemic are to new gun owners.
  • Unfortunately, the increase in gun sales tracks with other major risks for suicide, such as unemployment and unstable housing, which might get worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • During this period of unstable employment and house, people might be moving to different houses, or relatives and friends might be moving in. With this fluidity, it is essential to inquire about guns in the home where they are staying or whether new people brought in guns. Dr. Rozel also explores who is in the house with the patient and checks in about the home environment regarding arguments and abuse, especially as tensions run high during pandemic shutdowns.
    • Make gentle assumptions by asking questions such as: “How do you store your guns?”
    • Get a sense of how safe the patient’s environment is while conducting telehealth, and be aware of patients’ social determinants of health issues.
  • As psychiatrists, it is our role to talk to patients about how their mental health influences their safety. If a patient is experiencing acute symptoms of their illness or perhaps has relapsed on substances, then it is imperative to ask about gun safety and whether the gun should be temporarily moved from the house.


Rozel J. Clinical Psychiatry News. 2020 Apr 2.

Harvard School of Public Health. Means Matter: Firearm Access is a Risk Factor for Suicide

Reger M et al. JAMA Psychiatry. 2020 Apr 10. doi: 10.10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.1060.

Rand Corporation. Gun Policy in America.

Show notes by Jacqueline Posada, MD, who is associate producer of the Psychcast and consultation-liaison psychiatry fellow with the Inova Fairfax Hospital/George Washington University program in Falls Church, Va. Dr. Posada has no conflicts of interest.

*  *  *

For more MDedge Podcasts, go to

Email the show: