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When Doctors Ask About Guns

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I know I’m not the only one who dislikes, postpones or even attempts to avoid doctors’ visits. There are just not many places where one can feel so vulnerable and so violated … and where so many ultra-personal medical and non-medical questions may be thrown at you as if you were participating in some uncomfortably inquisitive dating game.

You know the routine. After waiting and filling out paperwork (and waiting some more), you must honestly address the list of questions: “When was your last check-up?” “How often do you exercise?” “Do you smoke?” “How many alcoholic drinks do you consume in a week?” “Is there a gun in your home?”

Wait … what?

Probing Questions

That last question may seem a bit too probing, even for a medical exam. But I know a lot of people who have been asked about firearms at a routine doctor’s visit. Why? An article from the Annals of Internal Medicine (published in 2016) sums up the reasoning by reporting that “physicians have unique opportunities to help prevent firearm violence … and may ask about firearms (with rare exceptions), may counsel about firearms as they do about other health matters and may disclose information to third parties when necessary.”

Like it or not, there are many doctors who will include a question about guns on their list of things to ask — to both adults and children. A friend of mine said her child answered that there were guns in the home, and the nurse immediately asked follow-up questions about where the guns were located. Luckily, the child answered, “They’re in the safe.” But can you imagine if a child were mistaken (or just too young to understand) and he or she stated that guns were all over the house?

Children can complicate the situation in other ways as well. For example, in 2010, a Florida pediatrician declined to treat a patient when the mother of three refused to tell him whether or not she owned a gun. I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty upset if my sick child were denied care because I kept my mouth shut about something that was my personal business (and my right) in the first place.

Important Facts

While some states have worked to pass laws to stop doctors and other health care professionals from potentially misusing their patients’ trust to push a political agenda of gun control, other states have gone back and forth on bills that would impose a mandatory requirement for doctors to ask patients about firearms in their homes and provide “counseling” for those who have answered “yes.”

For this reason, you might want to brush up on what your state has been up to regarding physicians, patients and firearms. There are some important facts, as reported by Tim Wheeler, MD, with Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, that you should know and remember before even setting foot in a doctor’s office:

  • “Doctors receive absolutely no training about firearms safety, mechanics or tactics in medical school or residency. They are completely unqualified by their training to advise anyone about guns.”
  • “Gun ownership is a civil right. A doctor’s abuse of his position of trust to pressure you to give up that civil right is professionally and morally wrong. In some states it is illegal. You DO NOT have to tolerate it.”
  • “You as a consumer have great power in the doctor-patient relationship. Do not be afraid to use it.”

Possible Responses

So what are the options? What should you or your child do if firearms become a topic when you thought you were just getting a shot or a prescription for Tamiflu? You can answer honestly, but don’t be surprised if more questions follow … and if your answers end up on a permanent record somewhere.

Personally, I would politely refuse to answer the question. But if a simple response like that doesn’t stop the inquiry, you could say you’re uncomfortable with the question or explain that you believe it invades your privacy, or you could state that the question has absolutely nothing to do with your appointment or your reason for being there.

Greg Hopkins, an attorney and instructor with Alabama Legal Defense Academy, gave me his answer. And I think we can learn a lot from it. He replied: “Doc, what you’re asking ultimately invades my Fourth Amendment right to privacy and security from government intrusion because the government can require any record you make of my answer, or lacking a record, your testimony. You haven’t asked if I have scuba, sky diving or road racing equipment. Nor have you asked me if I have a good doctor, which is strange, since every year eight times more people in the U.S. die from medical mistakes than from firearms …. which shows there’s likely a political reason behind your question.

“So frankly, it’s none of your business what I do when I’m not in your office — even smoking or overeating — because those are my choices, and I will assume the risks — or not — as God gives me the wisdom to do so. I have nothing further to say on this matter, and neither should you.”


About Beth Alcazar

Author of Women’s Handgun & Self-Defense Fundamentals, associate editor of Concealed Carry Magazine and creator of the Pacifiers & Peacemakers column, Beth Alcazar has enjoyed nearly two decades of teaching and working in the firearms industry. She holds degrees in language arts, education and communication management and uses her experience and enthusiasm to share safe and responsible firearms ownership and usage with others. Beth is certified through the NRA as a Training Counselor, Chief Range Safety Officer and Certified Instructor for multiple disciplines. She is also a Certified Instructor through SIG Sauer Academy, ALICE Institute, DRAW School, TWAW and I.C.E. Training and is a USCCA Certified Instructor and Senior Training Counselor.

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