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Doctors and Guns

gun controlBy Lawrence N. Pivnick MD JD

Something is rotten with the state of medicine today. Well, more than one thing actually, but today’s complaint concerns the fact that your doctor has been conscripted by the federal government to spy on your gun closet. This has occurred despite the fact that as Obamacare moved its way through Congress, gun rights proponents, fearing the establishment of a federal firearm registry, acted to ensure that the program could not be used as a legal basis for mandating inquiries about gun ownership.

 Section 1716(c) of the Affordable Care Act is entitled “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights.” The government interprets the section thus: “the statute prohibits a (medical provider) from requiring the disclosure of information…concerning firearms, but nothing in this section prohibits or otherwise limits the communication between health care professionals and their patients, including communications about firearms. Health care providers can play an important role in promoting gun safety.”

Another government boondoggle, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (stimulus program) forces doctors to transfer all patient records to digital format (EHR) on pain of financial loss. These two laws have converged to deceive doctors into the unintended consequence of asking the gun-ownership question anyway.

Dr. Katherine Christoffel, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that “guns are a virus that must be eradicated.” The American Medical Association has utilized its professional journal to promote antigun propaganda for at least 25 years. These two powerful medical organizations, both strong supporters of the Brady Center’s antigun agenda, have convinced EHR software vendors that questions about gun ownership are merely a routine part of a thorough medical history, and coerced them into including those queries in their EHR templates.

As a result, the gun question appears anyway, despite clear language to the contrary in the ACA. Studies show that if this question is already in the template, 99% of doctors will ask it, and most patients, not wishing to disappoint their doctors, will answer it. Combine that fact with the fact that the government has access to everyone’s electronic health records via the ARRA for “billing and monitoring” purposes, and you have created a gun owner registration system contravening both the ACA and the Second Amendment.

So what happens to the patient who refuses to answer the question? There are already numerous examples of abuse. In one case, shortly after a man honestly answered his doctor’s query about guns in the home, Child Protective Services turned up at his residence demanding to enter so they could assure his guns were safely locked up. In another, a woman took her 4-month-old baby to the pediatrician. When she refused to answer the gun question, the doctor terminated their 30-year relationship and forced the mother to locate another pediatrician within 30 days.

In yet another case, a mother brought her 16-year-old son to a Chicago Hospital for a tonsil infection. After asking the parents to step outside the examination room, the doctor then asked the boy about guns in the home. Because there was no evidence of suicidal risk or other psychiatric issue, the mother was justly outraged at this invasion of privacy.

Then what is to be done? Florida has already enacted the “Florida Firearm Owner’s Privacy Act” which cements into law the idea that a patient may choose not to answer the question without fear of retribution. The law also directs health care practitioners to refrain from asking gun-related questions unless they are pertinent to the patient’s medical treatment.

Naturally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) filed a lawsuit against this law claiming a violation of the First Amendment, but it was upheld on appeal by the 11th Federal Circuit Court. The Court noted that the Act’s purpose is “to protect a patient’s ability to receive effective medical treatment without compromising the patient’s privacy regarding matters unrelated to health care.” The North Carolina legislature is presently considering a similar measure. Apparently laws such as this one are needed in every other state and at the federal level as well, in order to prevent abuse.

In the meanwhile, what is a gun owning patient to do? I suggest you, as a patient, exercise your right to refuse to answer the question and explain to your physician why you are doing so. Or, you can simply lie to your physician.

Lawrence N. Pivnick MD JD is a contributing fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis

Source: Health Policy Blog

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