Proposed Law would Ban Docs from Asking if Patient Owns Gun | | Local News

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.

via Proposed Law would Ban Docs from Asking if Patient Owns Gun | | Local News.

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).


  1. Agree on every single point. (Don’t be too surprised.)

    Hey, here’s a question — what’s a good age to begin to familiarize your kids with guns? I recall shooting for the first time when I was maybe 11, and I took a class with .22 rifles in scout camp when I was a bit older, but it’s all a little vague in my memory. My oldest is eight, and seems *way* too young to get to handle a live firearm. But I think he should get a gun safety course, and learn how they work and how to use them safely. What age would you recommend?

  2. Shadowfax, depends on the kid … my 8 yr old grandson got his first .22 rifle last year and is more than reasonably careful with it, it stays locked up when not in use and all 3 of the boys (2 more younger) understand about guns = danger and grownup supervision is required! Dad is former Marine and Army, has done his combat time. And I agree, the law being discussed would be pretty much pointless, and don’t we have more than enough of those already? If you have a registered gun, the government already knows who you are … and yes, you should be able to talk to your doc about anything and answer any questions he/she has without worrying about being “turned in” for whatever … it’s called HIPAA. If you don’t trust your doctor, you’d better find another.

  3. Geez, GruntDoc, if you insist on being rational, you’re likely to take the wind out of the sails of zealots on both extremes.

    Oh, who am I kidding? Zealots sail under the hot air of their own bloviating.

  4. I recently became the proud owner of my first gun and I agree on every point. As a father of two small kids, one of the first things I did was to show my four year old the parts of the gun so it’s less mysterious and he understands that it can hurt him. Diligently keeping a chamber lock and a trigger lock on won’t hurt either. He won’t be shooting a 12 ga anytime soon, but I wanted him to understand that guns are tools, not toys. Pediatricians need to use that question to educate those parents aren’t as paranoid about gun safety as yours truly.

    And ditto to Becca – if you obtained a gun legally, the gov’t already knows you have it.

  5. CholeraJoe says:

    The way I always ask the question, the patient doesn’t have to reveal whether or not they own guns. “If there are firearms in your home, are they properly secured from children?” If they answer “yes” it only means that if there were firearms, they would be properly secured. The ones who don’t own guns, usually say, “We don’t own any guns.”

    What I record in the medical record is, “Firearms safety in the home discussed” in all instances.

    Shadowfax, I fired my first live rounds at age 7, having grown up in a hunting&trap shooting family. I started going to trap shoots with my grandfather at age 4. I received my first rifle at 8 and first shotgun at 9.

  6. Man. How am I going to get commenters if people agree with what I write?

  7. Florida is the test bed for all NRA actions….

    For 3 years NRA and the State Chamber of Commerce battled over whether employees had the right to keep firearms in their own vehicles on business poperty and before that it was castle doctrine and the later expansion of it to a stand your ground amendment.

    Whatever NRA needs they come here.

  8. A friend just sent me this link. Pretty funny, and I wondered if you’d seen it.

    Not every legal owner has guns that are registered with the government. People inherit firearms from parents and grandparents; people are given gifts.

    @CholeraJoe – great way to phrase the question.

  9. only time i have been asked by an md about a gun is when i was suicidal. it was a relevent question.

  10. IF pt is suicidal or homocidal I think it is important info to have and (yes) document. Im sure there is a plaintiff attorney out there that would use it against you if you didn’t ask. I really don’t want the gov knowing anything more than is absolutely necessary.

  11. whitecap nurse says:

    I don’t own guns, don’t like ’em but respect others right to keep and use them. That said, I agree that psych docs have a responsibility to ask about gun presence in the homes of suicidal patients. My parents’ hospice team asked them about guns as well as part of an overall safety assessment. And I certainly ask all MY suicidal patients if they have ANY weapon in their possession and then we search them to be sure.

  12. Nice piece, and interesting. Big implications for peds where I think anticipatory guidance is important with respect to firearms. Like you, I practice in an area of where firearms are part of the landscape and responsible handling/training is the norm. But young families sometimes need to be reminded.

    And I don’t ask if they have a gun, I ask which gun they have….

  13. LibertyLovingTexan says:

    I always answer no when I see that question pop up on a clipboard at the doctor’s office because I don’t want to end up in a database. Having studied history, I agree that some things are better left undeclared. That having been said, I also live in the great state of Texas and, yup, I think just about everyone here owns and many carry.

  14. Glen in Odessa says:

    I disagree. What is the point of the question? Nothing in a physicians training gives them any useful response to however this question is answered. Such pointless questions create an adversarial relationship between physician and patient.
    Much worse if such questions are actually addressed to children rather than parents.

    Questions asked by a physican should relate directly to examination and treatment of medical problems. If you can’t treat it or make a referral for it, then questions about it are both a waste of time and an intrusion.

    There are circumstances where questions about firearms are a valid part of medical history (dematitis, hearing loss, and tinitis come to mind). If no such circumstances are present, then don’t ask.

    Glen in Odessa

  15. Glen,
    I wouldn’t support any restrictions on this non-commercial speech, period. There’s no justification for restricting speech.

    If asked a question by your doctor you’re not interested in engaging in, then say ‘I don’t want to talk about that’, and if it becomes an issue, get another doc.

    But don’t presume to tell pros what questions they can ask.

  16. Jim in Texas says:

    I got my first rifle when I was ten. A single shot .22 that had belonged to my mother when she was a little girl. Dad taught me how to hunt squirrels with that rifle. I got my next rifle for Christmas when I was eleven. A tube fed bolt action .22.

    I learned how to shoot “properly” with a M1 carbine modified to shoot .22 when I was 12. It was a NRA sponsor class and all the ammo was provided by the military, the thought being, I guess, to train future Marine and Army riflemen at an early age.

    I remember attending fancy shooting exhibitions by the time I was 8 or 9. As a kid I recall they were very well attended by adults and kids; times have changed.

    I first learned how to shoot a pistol at 12-13 on a .45 1911 that my father brought home from the war. I learned how to field strip it blindfolded (my idea, I saw someone do it in a movie) The first time I fired it that big ol’ thumb smashing hammer torn the web of my right hand and (just looked) the scar is still there, nothing like pain to teach a valuable life lesson. I still have the .45. It was made in 1913 and still shoots with the same spring that my father took to war. I had to replace my .40 Kahr’s spring two years after I bought it.

    I also first qualified on a .50 “Ma Duce” in 1967 that had first gone into service in 1942. Mr. Browning made stuff to last, I guess.

    Both my sons learned how to shoot by the time they were 13 but neither one touched another weapon after that until they learned the M-16 in Navy basic training. I suppose some people are just born gun people.

  17. I often, especially while doing something like an EMG where there is downtime while your taking off or attaching electrodes, will chat with patients about all sorts of things, though I can’t recall me ever asking about gun ownership, and don’t even say anything when I walk in the exam room to see a .38 police special sitting on the counter after the patient/officer has removed his ankle holster (does tend to cause a brief stomach flip-flop though).

    Having said this, I don’t make notes of these casual conversations that really aren’t part of the reason I’m seeing the patient. I do know psychiatrists will assess a depressed patient about gun possession or access, and this seems reasonable.

    Having said this, I would hate to get some citation or warrant issued just because I had an idle conversation about guns with someone. I also worry about a motive for such a law like not wanting documentation about gun ownership to be accessible by someone’s insurance company — people with guns don’t want anyone to know?

  18. If a patient may be suicidal or in a home environment where violence takes place, the gun question is VERY relevant — that Florida lawmaker is a frickin’ idiot.

    @Shadowfax: My Dad joined a police force when I was 6. He taught me about gun safety immediately, and as soon as I was big enough to physically hold various firearms, he taught me how to shoot them. It removed the mystique and showed me just how dangerous they could be, so it never even occurred to “play” with one. That’s what toy guns are for…..

  19. I share the concern about the gun ownership question getting incorporated into the electronic database templates and at some point being mandated, especially in the larger systems. I am in favor of pediatricians and family practice docs educating patients and parents about safety. This can be done in a variety of ways without documentation.
    It would be a gross violation of professional standards, however, to not ask suicidal or homicidal patients about access to weapons. It may need to be addressed along with driving in cases with dementia. Home care agencies might have their own safety issues. I have no problem with physician/provider discretion and situational judgment driving questions and discussions.
    Muzzling professionals by law is a big mistake. However, in our zeal to be preventive and proactive we need to beware of unintended consequences.
    Thanks all for your enlightened and balanced responses.

  20. Gun ownership has been way too politicized, and has far too much company in the list of things that can be used against you from your medical record. But “banning” is just a euphemism for another law that will make that much narrower the line between physician and felon. To paraphrase, let armed patients lie.