Doctors, Patients, and Guns—Revisited

Shotgun fired and shell expelled

October 5, 2017

In light of the mass shooting that occurred earlier this week in Las Vegas, it seems prudent to update the information in the following previously published blog post, Doctors, Patients, and Guns, and re-open a discussion on whether or not doctors can impact gun deaths by identifying patients as gun owners.

In the February 7, 2017 post by Dr. Ajay Singh, Dr. Singh brought attention to a 2011 law passed in Florida that sought to prohibit health care providers from asking patients if they owned guns. Nicknamed the “docs vs glocks” law, it had been found unconstitutional for violating the 1st Amendment rights of doctors. That decision was subsequently vacated by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, and a further appeal had yet to be ruled on.

On Feb. 17th, a week after the post was published, the full appellate court struck down the law, and the state did not file any further appeals. According to an article in the Palm Beach Post, Judge Adalberto Jordon wrote, “Florida may generally believe that doctors and medical professionals should not ask about, nor express views hostile to, firearm ownership, but it ‘may not burden the speech of others in order to tilt public debate in a preferred direction.’”

Now that Florida doctors are free once again to ask patients about gun ownership, the question remains as to whether or not this is a fair medical question or an invasion of privacy? In a 2016 post by Olga Khazan in The Atlantic, Khazan noted that while guns were used to kill people in about 250 justified shootings in 2014, they were used in over 21,000 suicides during that same time period, or by half of all Americans who committed suicide. She then continued:

Having a gun in the home is also strongly correlated with accidental shootings. As I’ve written, about 1.7 million children live in homes with guns that aren’t safely stored. Toddlers alone have shot at least 23 people this year.

Most unintentional shootings of children happen in homes where guns are legally owned, but not stored safely, and 70 percent of them could have been prevented if the gun had been stored safely.

Presumably then, the idea behind asking patients if they own guns is to follow up an affirmative answer with a conversation on safe gun storage, much like doctors discuss other health and safety issue with their patients such as wearing helmets or seat belts. It may also open up conversations about depression or other mental health issues.

Here is Dr. Singh’s original post. We hope that you will read it and share with us your opinions and/or experiences with this important issue.


By Ajay K. Singh, MBBS, FRCP, MBA
Tuesday, Febraury 7, 2017

A few months back when I saw my primary care physician at one of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital practices, I noticed that there was a question on the pre-visit questionnaire asking about whether I owned a gun. I do not own a gun and never have and so had no problem in answering no to this question.

Recently, however, I noticed an article in Kaiser Health News discussing whether physicians should be allowed under the law to ask about their patients’ gun ownership. Really? [continue reading…]

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