I wrote an article a while back about how when my child begins to have playdates, I will be asking parents if they have guns in their homes. The above statement was the resounding response to my declaration. I live in Florida – people love their guns here. I’m not exactly sure what percentage of the population owns them, because gun owners are not required to register their weapons in this state. Our country loves guns, and it loves respecting the “privacy” of gun owners. So much so, that the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit just upheld a 2011 Florida law that makes it illegal for doctors to ask patients if they own a gun. Apparently, asking someone if they own a gun is more invasive than asking them if they have herpes, suicidal tendencies, or genetic diseases.
Aaron E. Carrol, author and health services researcher, wrote about the appeal in the New York Times this week. He questions the logic behind the court’s decision. Questioning this appeal makes perfect sense, but I doubt gun owners, relentlessly protecting their “privacy” will hear him.
Almost 20,000 people committed suicide in the United States with firearms in 2011. More than 11,000 were killed by firearms that year, and more than 200 were killed in accidents with guns. In 2009, almost 7,400 children were hospitalized because of injuries related to guns.
Doctors who ask about guns aren’t doing so because they’re nosy. They’re doing so because the vast majority of those deaths and injuries are preventable.
Doctor’s advise us about risky behaviors all the time; it’s their job. It makes zero sense that someone who is privy to the most personal details about your health and body should not be allowed a piece of information that will help them help you. For every responsible gun owner that keeps their firearms locked and safely managed, there are plenty who don’t. Why take information away from these people? Why can’t we ever be smart and reasonable about the issue of gun ownership – and realize that a lack of knowledge about safe storage and handling kills thousands of our citizens every year?
Of course, rejecting discussion of a risk-laden topic isn’t much different from rejecting discussion of what you eat, or what’s physically ailing you. You’re hurting only yourself. What this now-upheld Florida law does is prevent doctors from helping other people, who might want the assistance. Anticipatory guidance is about stopping injuries before they happen. This law, passed in the name of protecting privacy, prevents doctors from practicing good medicine.
It is absolutely my business if there is a gun stored in a home where my child may play. My mother takes care of my children during the day – and as many older people do, takes a variety of prescription drugs to manage ailments. If I were hosting a playdate and a parent asked me if there were prescription drugs in my home and where they were stored I would gladly answer. Why we are defaulting to a state of no transparency around gun ownership is baffling to me. It’s a shame that doctors in Florida are being prevented from doing all they can do to manage the health of their patients. It’s absurd that the issue of gun ownership has become this “private, personal” matter that no one can touch.