When your doctor asks you if you own a gun

There have been laws passed on this subject in Florida, always to the great consternation of liberals and gun control advocates, but it remains an open question in much of the country. Should your doctor be asking you during the course of a routine check-up whether or not you or any family members have a gun in your house? And what if they do just come out and ask? Ben Guarino at the Washington Post brings us some information about a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine which suggests that nothing should hold doctors back from inquiring. You know… just for your own good.

“Firearm violence is an important health problem, and most physicians agree that they should help prevent that violence,” wrote Garen J. Wintemute, a public health expert at the University of California Davis and co-author of the paper, in an email to The Washington Post. In the literature review, which doubles as a call-to-arms, the authors conclude it is neither illegal nor unreasonable to ask patients about gun safety.

“No federal or state law prohibits doctors from asking about firearms, counseling about their use, and — when there is imminent risk of harm — disclosing information to others who can help,” Wintemute said. Several states have mulled statutes similar to Florida’s, but none of the proposed bills have passed.

“Physicians seek to prevent important health problems at the individual and population levels,” Wintemute and his colleagues write. “They inquire and counsel—routinely in some cases, selectively in others—about a wide range of health-related behaviors and conditions. In certain circumstances, they disclose otherwise confidential information to third parties to limit the risk an affected person poses to others.

That’s followed by much more of the same propaganda. The typical excuses are offered in terms of some vague responsibility to public health or evaluating risk. In a kinder, gentler world I might even agree with many of the points being made if the intersection between actual medical care and the government were a bit more distinct. Sadly, that’s not the world we live in. The reality is that this is a decision which comes down to your own comfort level and your relationship with your doctor.

There was a time when I’d have suggested that such a conversation was harmless no matter how you decided to answer. Sadly, I live in New York, and any gun owner here can tell you that you no longer have that luxury or reason for any confidence in the privacy of the doctor – patient relationship. Since the passage of the New York Safe Act there have been tens of thousands of residents stripped of their Second Amendment rights, many of whom were placed on the government’s “No Second Amendment Rights” list as a result of an anonymous call from a medical professional with “concerns.” There is no need for court adjudication to prove someone is dangerously unbalanced or insane. Just a call saying you “seem depressed” will be enough. It’s then up to you to spend the time and vast amount of attorney fees required to go to court and prove that you’re not crazy.

But even if your doctor isn’t the sort to drop a dime on you or if you live in a state with less restrictive laws, how is that any of the doctor’s business to begin with? Gun ownership is not a disease and it can’t be “cured” by a doctor. The simple fact that you own a gun does not make you some sort of Glock wielding Typhoid Mary who might adversely affect the public. If a mental health professional is treating you for some sort of confirmed psychotic condition and wants to work with your family to have you declared incompetent they are free to go through the courts and do so. If you’re in their office for your annual check-up or because you broke your ankle, it is absolutely none of the doctor’s business whether or not you legally own a firearm.

So what do you do? I normally would advise against this under any other conditions, but as far as I’m concerned you should lie. If your doctor asks anything about firearms in your home, don’t just say, “I’m uncomfortable discussing that” or bring up privacy issues. That leaves them free to interpret the answer as they will. Just lie through your teeth and tell them there are no guns in the house. Of course, what you do is up to you, but that’s how I plan to handle it if the situation arises. Leave law enforcement matters to the police and your doctor can just stick to curing what actually ails you.