A bill recently introduced into the Texas State Legislature would make it illegal for doctors to ask their patients if they own guns. Doctors ask about guns to make sure that they're being stored safely and to gauge a patient's domestic violence risks. But the bill sponsor, State Representative Stuart Spitzer, seems to believe the information is being reported to the federal government as part of a nefarious plan to Take All the Guns Away.
Spitzer, who is himself a surgeon, filed the bill on March 16,. He told the Texas Tribune soon after that he'd been motivated to do so because his daughter's pediatrician asked the girl if there were guns in the house.
""Pediatricians are asking children away from their parents, 'Do you have guns in your house?'," Spitzer told the Tribune. "And then reporting this on the electronic health records, and then the federal government, frankly, has access to who has guns and who doesn't."
Spitzer's fellow physicians hate the bill; Gary Floyd, a pediatrician from Fort Worth and a board member with the Texas Medical Association, told the Tribune that guns are one of many possible home dangers doctors ask about: "[B]ike helmets and seat belts and swimming pool hazards, dangerous chemicals in the home, sexual behaviors, domestic violence. I could go on and on." All of those questions, he added, are "geared mainly to how we should direct our advice." For example, if you have a gun you're not locking up in a safe place, and your kid tells her doctor that, the pediatrician can tell you to lock up your gun or risk a serious and potentially fatal home accident.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that guns also make domestic violence even deadlier, writing, "A study of women physically abused by current or former intimate partners revealed a 5-fold increased risk of the partner murdering the woman when the partner owned a firearm." And the American Academy of Pediatrics found that almost one in five teenagers at risk for suicide live in homes with guns. Fifteen percent knew how to access both the gun and bullets.
In other words, asking about guns in the home and how they're stored is a reasonable step to make sure your patients are safe. Think Progress points out that Spitzer has received A ratings from both the the National Rifle Association and the Texas State Rifle Association. Chris W. Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, has written in an editorial that while doctors may "know medicine," they're not the best people to ask about guns or gun laws: "[A]s a group they don't have any specialized knowledge of firearms or firearm policy." Bet they're pretty knowledgeable about gunshot wounds, though.
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