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What’s In Your Gun Closet? In Florida, a Doctor’s Right to Ask Is Under Threat

| November 28, 2012

florida guns laws doctors guns or glocks

What’s in your closet? (Chris Griffin)

Should doctors be able to ask patients or patients’ parents whether they own a gun? What about health insurers, employers or health-care officials implementing the federal health law? Can they ask about gun ownership?

The issue is playing out in Florida, where a federal judge in July issued a permanent injunction against enforcement of a law that would have prohibited doctors from asking patients about gun ownership in many instances, saying the prohibition impinged on doctors’ First Amendment right to speak with their patients about gun safety.

The law would have allowed physicians to ask about guns if it seemed relevant to a patient’s medical care or safety – for example, if a patient was severely depressed or experiencing violence in the home. Florida is appealing the judge’s ruling.

Six other states – Alabama, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia – have considered similar legislation in recent years, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence,  although none of them has approved such a law.

The 2010 federal health law doesn’t prevent doctors from asking about guns, but it does prohibit insurers, employers and the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services from asking about gun ownership in many instances, and it prohibits HHS from collecting such data.

Employer-sponsored wellness programs, for example, are prohibited from asking people about gun use or storage. Such questions might be posed as part of a questionnaire that asks about risky health behavior such as smoking and inadequate exercise. Likewise, health insurers can’t use gun ownership, use or storage as criteria for setting premiums or denying coverage.

Even without the new restrictions, such questions are rarely asked or acted on, say experts. “We don’t have any data or industry information on [this subject], but it isn’t something that we’ve heard about or seen companies do,” says Susan Pisano, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group.

Physicians say that asking whether there are guns in the home and how they’re stored should be part of routine discussions doctors have about hazards in the home, just as they ask about poisonous cleaning materials or fencing around outdoor pools.

In most instances, those conversations take place between pediatricians and parents of young children.

In 2009, one in five deaths caused by injuries to people younger than 20 were related to firearms, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ revised policy statement on gun-related injuries released in October.


“It’s inconceivable to me that I wouldn’t be able to have a conversation about something that might harm the child,” says Robert Sege, director of the division of family and child advocacy at Boston Medical Center. Sometimes parents have declined to answer when he asks if they have guns at home, he says, and in those cases he doesn’t push for answers but does provide gun-safety pointers.

But gun-rights advocates say information about gun ownership is no one’s business but their own. They say it’s up to the individual to abide by laws related to gun ownership and safe storage.

“We take our children to the doctor because they’re sick or need health care,” says Marion Hammer, a former National Rifle Association president who is the executive director of United Sportsmen of Florida, the NRA’s legislative affiliate for the state. “We don’t take them there for political dialogue or for pediatricians to ask us not to exercise a constitutional right.”

Gun control advocates view the health law provisions and state laws like the one in Florida as part of a “concerted effort by the gun lobby to limit access to information about the dangers of gun ownership and about the use of guns in crimes,” says Benjamin Van Houten, managing attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Gun rights advocates see it differently. Hammer describes taking her granddaughter to the pediatrician near her home in Tallahassee a few years ago for a check-up. The doctor, who was new to the practice, asked her 14-year-old granddaughter whether there were guns at her home. Hammer declined to answer the question.

“It was the first and only time that’s happened,” says Hammer. “We don’t see her anymore.”

–Michelle Andrews, Kaiser Health News

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15 Responses for “What’s In Your Gun Closet? In Florida, a Doctor’s Right to Ask Is Under Threat”

  1. fred says:

    They can ask all they want. The answer is; none of your business.

  2. Rich7553 says:

    “In 2009, one in five deaths caused by injuries to people younger than 20 were related to firearms, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ revised policy statement on gun-related injuries released in October.”

    Why is a pediatric organization including ages 18 and 19, legal adults, in the statistics they cite? Because the number of firearms related deaths of ages 0 – 17 MORE THAN DOUBLES when ages 18 and 19 are included (CDC WISQARS database). It’s a great way to mislead the unwary reader and create the desired hysterics.

    “’It’s inconceivable to me that I wouldn’t be able to have a conversation about something that might harm the child,’ says Robert Sege, director of the division of family and child advocacy at Boston Medical Center.”

    Interesting. Perhaps we should talk about doctors then, since through malpractice, they kill 9000 times more people per year than firearms do.

    “Sometimes parents have declined to answer when he asks if they have guns at home, he says, and in those cases he doesn’t push for answers but does provide gun-safety pointers.”

    As a firearms instructor and range safety officer, I can get jailed for providing medical advice without a license. What exactly is a doctor’s qualification in firearms safety, especially since such information is provided by gun control groups rather than the NRA, the largest firearms safety training organization in the world?

  3. Richard Moore says:

    Why are we allowing a physician to diagnose mental illness anyways? The only doctors that have specialized training for mental illness are psychiatrists, so it shouldn’t be left for a family doctor or pediatrician to decide if your child is “depressed” and none of there GD business whether or no there is a gun in the home. If a child is depressed and a family doctor suspects it, the child should be referred to a psychologist, period.

    I’m still undecided whether or not a psychologist should be able to ask about guns in the home or not. On one hand, there are the mentioned privacy concerns, but on the other, about 10% of the population experience psychotic behavior when taking anti-depressives or SSRIs. If I was a parent of such a child, the extra little warning from someone who has been properly trained in mental illness and counseled my child might be a godsend.

  4. Mario DiGirolamo says:

    I have already been asked that question. Also, whether I wear a seat belt. I believe it was asked when applying for insurance. Either way, unless I walk in with a gun strapped to my hip …

  5. Nancy N. says:

    Everyone’s focusing on the wrong thing here – the pediatric data – and ignoring the one scenario where there can be no argument that it is relevant and vitally important to ask about gun ownership: when a doctor believes that a patient is depressed and possibly a threat to themselves, or even to others, or when there is apparent violence happening in the home. Setting aside everything else, for that reason alone doctors need the ability to discuss gun ownership with their patients.

    It’s a scary thing when the state starts to tell my doctor what he can and can’t say to me.

    • Jarhead1982 says:

      Its a scarey thing when a doctor exceeds his boundaries and expertise on subjects they are not licensed to practice then in violation of their hipocratic oath refuse to treat a person because they dont believe in civilian disarmament.

      Its real scarey that a doctor is documenting such data as what a person has in their home when no threat or valid diagnosis of mentally ill could be determined and will forward said information to the government for what logical reason again?

      Then again maybe you should read the actual law and explain where the doctor would be banned from promoting so called safety as such a declaration just does not exist.

      Get back to us when you have that info.

      • patti bissonnette says:

        If a doctor suspects a person is a danger to themselves or others they are required to take appropriate action, which is to refer or report the situation to an agency that deals with these issues. Do you really think a depressed person who has plans to use a gun on themselves, or unfortunately others, is going to tell their doctor the truth???? I can see a doctor offering pamphlets in seat belt, medication security, and proper gun storage and safety to their patients if they chose. Then it would be up to the patient to read or not read the information. But for a doctor to ask if their patient owns a gun is a bit much for me and nobody’s business. If somebody wants to kill themselves…they will find a way…gun or no gun!

    • Rich7553 says:

      “…it is relevant and vitally important to ask about gun ownership: when a doctor believes that a patient is depressed and possibly a threat to themselves, or even to others, or when there is apparent violence happening in the home. ”

      Have you read the actual statute?

      “Notwithstanding this provision, a health care practitioner or health care facility that in good faith believes that this information is relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others, may make such a verbal or written inquiry.”

    • FlaglerCtyresident says:

      It’s scary when every piece of information about you is going to the government to be used against you, if need be. It is getting very scary how BIG government wants to take over what we eat, what our kids eat, what you own, what medical care you receive. You are very naive.

  6. Geezer and The Crotchety Crowd says:

    Can I ask my doctor if he has guns in HIS house?

  7. Bubba says:

    Will the doctor also ask if there are….knives, forks, hammers, chisels, meat clevers, sharpened broom handles, psycho pet dog, crazy mother-in-law ?

  8. Deep South says:

    Being an avid outdoorsman, I’m always telling my Doctor about recent huntin’ and fishin, trips I been on, so it’s no big deal he knows I own guns and fishin’ rods. I’ve been around guns my whole life. Both my parents hunted and fished.

    • Rich7553 says:

      Deep South, whether or not you tell your doctor about your gun ownership is your choice. Indeed, there are a lot of doctors who are target shooters, hunters, competition shooters, and concealed carry licensees. There are also plenty more who are anti-gun ideologues, and many patients simply do not wish to volunteer their gun ownership information without a valid reason.

  9. BHirsh says:

    Oh, they can ask all they want, but we are not required to answer.

    The law was created to protect patients from being dumped by nosey doctors who disapprove of the private ownership and possession of firearms.

    It is to this end that the law should be reinstated in full.

  10. FlaglerCtyresident says:

    It is not a matter of telling your doctor. My doctor says that all your medical information must now be entered into a computer program that is sent to a government agency. The gun information through your doctor is just a way for the government to find out more information. They think people won’t care because it is your doctor asking. Very sneaky.

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