At each well child check-up, there are a plethora of questions to ask and topics to cover. Many of these questions and topics involve keeping children safe.
“Does your home have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors?”
“Does your child wear a helmet when biking?”
“Is there a gun in your home and, if so, how is it stored?”
These questions are natural lead-ins to general discussions of child safety. But if proposed gun legislation pending in the Florida legislature is enacted, pediatricians in that state would be banned from asking that crucial third question under threat of sanction by the state’s board of medicine.
The National Rifle Association (NRA), which spent $10 million during the 2008 presidential campaign and is known to be one of the nation’s most powerful lobbying organizations, had pushed for an even stronger version of the bill: one that called for fining doctors $5 million if they asked about guns in the home.
The proposed law should be defeated for a number of reasons. Doctors need to be free to have private, trusted relationships and conversations with their patients and families, free from government involvement. Furthermore, gun safety is a real issue. The Center to Prevent Youth Violence (PAX) conducted an on-line survey last month among 817 13 to 18-year-old students across the country and found that 45% of them knew someone who had brought a weapon to school. Another 49% knew of another student who had made a threat to hurt themselves or others and 13% knew someone who’d been shot. Firearms are used in the majority of teen suicides.
“Whether I own a gun is none of their business,” said Florida republican senator Joe Negron. Well, with all due respect, Mr. Negron, if there’s a child in your home, it is my business. Because children are my business. Keeping them safe is my job. And I can’t do my job with a muzzle on my mouth.
We need to be able to counsel families about the safe storage of guns. But we can’t do that if we can’t ask the question: are they there? Over 40% of US homes have guns. More than 1.5 million American children live in a home with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm. Part of my job, if a family owns a gun, is to counsel them about its safe storage: locked in a gun safe with ammunition locked separately.
This isn’t a Second Amendment right. It’s a First Amendment right. It’s about my right as a doctor to ask the questions I need to ask to keep my young patients safe. I hope the Florida legislature agrees.