Protecting Gun Owners from Pediatricians: Free Speech Redefined

Why would a gun owner not want to talk to their child’s doctor about gun safety?

One year ago I wrote an article in this journal about how Florida’s state legislature had passed a law prohibiting doctors from discussing gun safety at pediatric visits.      The law drew immediate and strong objection from all the major medical organizations, including my own, the American Academy of Pediatrics. Reason seemed to prevail, as the US District Court quickly handed down an injunction against the gag law. Reason however does not sell guns or bankroll politicians in conservative states.

On July 25th, 2014 the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld the original legislation, imposing harsh penalties on any physician who discusses gun safety with their patients (or in this case, of course, the minor’s parents.) The Court’s majority held that a state legislature can in fact prohibit a doctor from discussing with a patient any medical issue that it (the state) finds politically distasteful. The ruling assets that there is no First Amendment protection for physicians who provide their best medical advice to patients.

When I see a young teen in my practice who is experience a mood disturbance, I start a pretty involved conversation with him and his parents that includes suicide risk. One of the most crucial questions I need to ask is “Is there a gun in the house?” I ask this because 42% of male adolescents kill themselves with a gun, and the fatality of a gun-related suicide attempt is astronomical compared to all other methods. No second chances. Parents need and want this information. They are in my office because they are worried sick about their teen. They are looking for all the help they can get, and the stakes are too high to mince words. Considering what might be “politically distasteful” is the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Why would a gun owner not want to talk to their child’s doctor about gun safety? The answer is: that’s the wrong question. They do want to talk about it.

I work in a rural area where gun ownership is common. I routinely ask families about guns at every well child visit and I have never had a parent – gun owner or not – raise an objection. I am pleased to say that most gun owning parents answer readily that yes, their guns are hidden and locked up. If they do not take these measures, I encourage them to do so. Even amongst parents who don’t own guns, I am struck by the number of times an unexpected light bulb goes on, when a mother’s forehead will furrow, and she’ll turn to her child asking “Does Grampa keep his guns locked up? We’ll have to ask him the next time we’re over there.” Mission accomplished. Freedom still reigns.

Parents can even lie if they want to. Just the other day I asked the mother of a five year old if there were guns in the house. She said no, but the little guy chimed in “What about the one on the shelf?” The shelf? Really? I offered my safe storage advice to a very sour looking lady. As the AAP made clear in a recent statement, pediatricians are being urged to continue these conversations even as the legal battle continues.

I apparently need to point out here that I don’t – excuse the expression – have a gun to anyone’s head. I have no more clout in making parents take my advice about guns than in getting them to stop serving Pop Tarts for breakfast. They are completely free to reject my advice – something parents do on a regular basis. But at least we had the conversation.

So the real question is: Who exactly is the Florida state legislature trying to protect? Not responsible parents and their children. The lawmakers are protecting the gun manufacturing industry that bankrolls their campaigns and they hope they are protecting the votes they crave from their most conservative base. These groups would have us believe that only gun owners should be allowed to speak about guns, and helpless, tongue-tied gun-owning parents need to be constitutionally protected from their subversive pediatricians. This mindset, perversely, has become not only the new definition of free speech, but the new legal standard of medical practice in Florida.

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Comments
5 Responses to “Protecting Gun Owners from Pediatricians: Free Speech Redefined”
  1. 3boxesofbs says:

    Why would a gun owner not want to talk to their child’s doctor about gun safety?

    Because doctors are not experts on gun safety!
    Isn’t that obvious. Do you talk to your patients and their parents about areas outside of your knowledge or should you keep it to subjects you know about?

    I am pleased to say that most gun owning parents answer readily that yes, their guns are hidden and locked up. If they do not take these measures, I encourage them to do so.

    This is a perfect example of why it is a bad idea. Hidden guns aren’t so hidden.

    Most parents with guns think their children do not know where they hide them. However, 8 in 10 first graders know where their parents’ guns are hidden.

    Multiple studies have confirmed this — ‘hiding’ guns does not work as well parents and apparently YOU believe it to.

    The other issue is you seem to be mis-reading the actual court decision

    “The Act simply codifies that good medical care does not require inquiry or record-keeping regarding firearms when unnecessary to a patient’s care.”

    That ‘when unnecessary to a patient’s care’ is the key. Still can discuss risks but the law prevents doctors for discussing and recording information about gun ownership when unnecessary to the patient’s care.

    I apparently need to point out here that I don’t – excuse the expression – have a gun to anyone’s head.

    Given the intrusive nature of governmental regulation and practices — in many ways this was a ‘holding a gun ” to their head. It was just a gun held by law enforcement officials. Because if the parents refused to answer a doctor’s questions; what do you think the results would have been?

    The doctor just forget about it and move on?
    Or would it be likely that a report would be filed, government officials investigate — possible fining at least the parents for not answering or removing the children from the home because the parents threatened their safety by not discussing important information with their doctor?

    Bob S.

    • barkingdoc says:

      Wow. Lots of confusion here. Doctor’s aren’t an expert on gun safety? I’m not a swimming instructor. I Have never even owned a pool. but every visit I caution parents about pool safety. And guess what? Its effective. I don’t know where the heck gun rights advocates get the idea that they possess some magical knowledge about gun safety. When it comes to keeping guns out of kids hands, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist. Its actually pretty simple. But pediatricians are in a unique position to convey the message. And we do it very well.
      And your contrast of hiding guns vs “parents?. No safety measure works unless it is driven by the parents. That is true for keeping medicines out of children’s reach, covers on electric outlets, and keeping guns hidden,unloaded and locked. Its not one or the other
      And speaking of expertise, are you lecturing me on what is necessary to a patient’s care? Now we have finally reached a topic where expertise really matters, and you are out of your league, friend.
      Lastly, I don’t know what kind of doctor you go to, but the idea that patient;s are being forced to give us information they don’t want to or we’ll call the police or remove their children, is strange and paranoid. If that’s the kind of relationship you have with your doctor, maybe you need to find a new doctor.

      • 3boxesofbs says:

        Barkingdoc,

        I’m not a swimming instructor. I Have never even owned a pool. but every visit I caution parents about pool safety.

        Thanks for proving my point. Instead of sticking to what you know and what you are an expert in; you feel comfortable telling parents how to manage their lives.

        And guess what? Its effective.

        Any proof of that? Not that pool safety in America has improved but that your personal intrusion into other people’s lives is making a difference and it is effective?

        I don’t know where the heck gun rights advocates get the idea that they possess some magical knowledge about gun safety.

        We don’t have magical knowledge, nor do we claim. Nice straw man argument there Doc.
        What we want is to get medical advice from our doctors, electrical advise from electricians, auto advice from our mechanics and so forth. Just because you have a medical degree doesn’t make you an expert in everything.

        But pediatricians are in a unique position to convey the message. And we do it very well.

        And once again you prove my point — if you are talking to parents about “hiding” guns you are doing a grave disservice to them. YOUR words, not mine, stated that is what you talk to them about — making sure the firearms are hidden or locked up. Kids will and do find hidden guns. This is why you need more information!!!

        Bob S.

  2. 3boxesofbs says:

    Violent deaths at any age are unacceptable, but this is not nearly the epidemic some would have us believe. For younger children, preventing injury from gun violence means adults acting responsibly in teaching about and controlling access to their firearms. For older youth, the same applies, with allowance made for the growth of their own good judgment. For all of us, it can also mean using firearms to defend children against others who would harm them. For doctors, it means not acting paternalistic toward responsible adults who seek their medical expertise.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/387206/doctors-can-be-wrong-robert-b-young

    Bob S.

  3. barkingdoc says:

    I know I am not going to change either of your minds. And you are certainly not going to change mine. May your children be safe and happy!

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