TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A state lawmaker has filed a bill that would ban doctors from asking their patients if they have a gun in the home.
Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, said he has heard of a number of cases in which doctors asked their patients that question, which he thinks should be off limits.
“What we don’t want to do is have law-abiding firearm owners worried that the information is going to be recorded and then sent to their insurance company,” he said. “If they’re on Medicaid maybe it’s sent to the government. If the overreaching federal government actually takes over health care, they’re worried that Washington, D.C. is going to know whether or not they own a gun and so this is really just a privacy protection.”
Under the legislation, a doctor could face a fine of up to $5 million or be sent to prison for up to five years for asking about guns in the home.
Oh, geez. I understand the stated intent as recorded in this news item: gun ownership is being recorded, lots of things are reported to insurance companies and the government, and this bill is an attempt to keep this information out of those circles, at least as obtained in a doctors’ office where people still believe what they say is between them and their doc. It should be, but lots of things should be absolute aren’t.
Also, as a gun owner, I’m aware there are individuals and groups who want to do away with private firearms ownership. I don’t believe in black helos or vast conspiracies. I do believe that given the right crisis guns have been grabbed on flimsy pretense (New Orleans after Katrina, for instance). I do not believe making more lists of gun owners is a terrific idea. (Standard ‘no violent felons’, etc disclaimer here: if you’re not allowed by law to have them, then don’t, and I won’t cry when yours are taken legally).
Guns are able to be kept safely in homes provided the gun owners (and parents of children) exercise diligence. I think pediatricians asking about guns in the home (providing it’s not “Do you have an Eeeevil Gun! Gun! in your home?!) can be useful to prevent tragedy. Before you start typing, shot kids are a tragedy. A preventable one, when precautions are taken; from a public health standpoint asking about guns in the home is on par with car seats from a ‘used right’ standpoint. One dead kid from an unsecured weapon is too many. Shot adults are a similar tragedy, but they’re not the group impacted by the usual docs (pediatricians) asking about guns in the home.
And now: this law is wrong. I have no doubt it’d be overturned in court as a restriction on speech (which it certainly is), and it’s, well, kinda dumb. Want to keep lists like this out of the hands of insurance companies and Medicaid? Use you legislative authority and prevent them from keeping such lists. Problem solved, nobody’s free speech rights are infringed, and docs can get back to public health interventions.
(As an adult ER doc I never ask this: I live in Texas and presume everyone has a gun in the home. Also, ER doc…).
Oh, and my personal way to prevent firearms accidents in kids: lock them up (the metal things) until they’re old enough to get right from wrong, then demystify the guns. They’re no longer forbidden objects to be sought out, they’re tools they know about, know (generally) how they work, and to leave a house where their friends find a mysterious gun.
Update: The Volokh Conspiracy weighs in. I’m in good company, though it’s troublesome the author feels there’s legal authority to restrict doc-pt speech. via Snowflakes in Hell (a terrific, frequently updated gun blog).