Monday, July 27, 2015

How Can Doctors Not Talk About A Major Threat To The Life And Well-Being Of A Child?

“Firearm violence has become a leading cause of death and injury for children and teens. Guns in the home raise special concerns because they significantly raise the risk of homicide, suicide, and unintentional shootings.”

There are those who say, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” But that’s exactly the point: it’s people who should not have access to a gun that kill people. Consequently, we need to educate gun owners on gun safety so they don’t accidentally kill themselves or someone else, a loved one, spouse, or a child with a gun. No one is in a better position than a physician to discuss this important safety issue.As a matter of fact, if physicians did not ask about a patient’s relationship with guns in their home they would be neglecting one of the major causes of death and injury.

“You can’t take something that is one of the major threats to the life and well-being of a child and say you can’t talk about it. My patients wouldn’t like it, and I wouldn’t think I’m doing my job.” Dr. Robert Sege, M.D., Ph.D.,Health Resources in Action

But since 2011, Florida has had a law, the Privacy of Firearms Owner Act that prevents physicians from asking patients if they own a gun and questions about safe gun handling unless they believe the information is medically relevant.

The law was challenged on the grounds that it deprives physicians their constitutional right of free speech. In July of last year, the court upheld the law. Physicians groups, however, have asked the full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to review its panel's July ruling.

The state legislatures of Indiana and Texas are considering similar bills. Montana, Minnesota, and Missouri have versions of the Florida law. The fear is that if the court upholds the law it will set a precedent for other states to enact like laws.

One of the major concerns of those who oppose the law,  is that physicians will develop a database of gun ownership accessible to the federal government. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), however, prohibits the government from developing a gun owner’s listing compiled from patient medical records. President Obama issued an executive order clarifying that “the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.” The medical community encourages physicians to ask patients if they own guns.

Cary A. Smith, M.D., University of South Florida’s department of pediatrics states, “It is unfortunate that a few overzealous physicians in our state have caused special interest groups to bring this issue to the forefront by making patients and families who own firearms feel uncomfortable. However, there are completely legitimate medical reasons for physicians to discuss firearm safety. Just as patients are free to change doctors, physicians should be free to practice medicine in the manner they feel will best benefit their patients.”

However, the National Rifle Association, a Republican led Congress, and the federal courts are complicit in making it easy for people to get a gun. They are not concerned about gun safety because they maintain that no matter who you are you have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and to ask someone if they own a gun is an invasion of their right to privacy.

In the following video, the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Physician Focus discuss the topic of guns and public health: