WARNING: Not having a gun may be hazardous to your health!

I agree with Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds that this Virginia bill (forbidding doctors from asking patients whether they have firearms in the house) is an unconstitutional infringement on the doctors' free speech. I also think it interferes unduly with the practice of medicine, although I worry that a "guide on safety counseling for pediatricians" might also do that, especially if this were to become a canon of medical ethics.

I notice the NRA supports this legislation. (As I've said before, I'm a Life Member of the NRA, but I think this is a good time to disclose that again.) I haven't read the text of the law, but I'm wondering (just wondering, mind you) whether or not the prohibition on talking about guns would also prevent doctors from recommending in favor of firearms ownership. Patients in high crime neighborhoods would be well advised to protect their families, and a doctor might point that out in the interest of the patients' health.

Professor Volokh touches on this very subject:

...it's certainly quite possible that some doctors' political prejudices lead them to give unsound advice, for instance exaggerating the risks to health of keeping firearms in the home, or ignoring the possible benefits (including to the owners' health) of keeping firearms in the home.

I mean, isn't protecting your life a health issue too?

There's that old saying, "an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure."

What? Firearms weigh more than an ounce, you say?

That's true. The average pistol weighs three pounds.

But consider that the alternative might be a burial casket! Even a cursory cost benefit analysis reveals that in contrast to guns, coffins weigh -- and cost -- far more.

Such grave and weighty decisions should be matters of choice.

posted by Eric on 02.26.06 at 02:15 PM


I find it a little strange that doctors would ask about gun ownership. But I agree, from a constitutional perspective, this bill sounds appalling.

It's sad that an organization dedicated to advancing an absolutist view of the Second Amendment - which in itself is fine with me - would be so willing to trample all over other Amendments in the process.

Apartment 604   ·  February 26, 2006 10:36 PM

Find your kids messing with your weaponry? Then let the brainless twits have good and hard. You can recover from having your feelings hurt and/or your butt blistered.

You can also recover from being dead, but you have to start from the very beginning all over again, and you'll wind up with a new family and a new identity.

(And let's not talk about puberty. I remember lives when puberty was not a threat to the existence of the universe.)

Alan Kellogg   ·  February 26, 2006 10:52 PM

I'm confused about the reason for the bill in the first place. Is there really a problem in VA with doctors running around rampantly and recklessly asking this question? Or with the gunowners suddenly seeing "the light" and immediately turning over their guns to the pediatricians (and then regretting it)?

Or, rather, was the bill proposed by gun control zealots to raise the temperature of the issue (guns are bad for children and other living things) by way of the backlash?

pikkumatti   ·  February 27, 2006 10:58 AM

There's nothing I hate more than seeing my doctor and him asking me about my gun.....?

Has this happened to anyone that you know? I've certainly never heard of it. (Then again I don't carry a gun)

alchemist   ·  February 27, 2006 3:03 PM

Yes, it happens all the time, which is why the NRA is involved.

The problem is that your medical records are shared with various sources and the inclusion of your gun ownership status is irrelevant to your medical status. In addition, doctors have no right to preach to children about their anti-gun attitudes.

Pediatricians in many states (at the behest of anti-gun advocacy organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics) now routinely ask children (as part of a general visit), "Are there guns in the home and if so are they stored properly?" Which is none of their damn business. Having children in a position to declare if they think their parents are storing their guns properly is completely inappropriate. Children do not know the laws regarding safe storage so they can answer incorrectly, inviting a visit from Child Protective Services--which is what this is all about. A witch hunt by the American Pediatrics Association to ferret out gun owners, and frighten them with threats of Children Protective Service entanglements.

What if doctors started asking kids if their parents had sex with people they weren't married to or if their parents looked at pornography or drank beer? I would suspect, depending on the snooping question, that many would see the reason behind this legislation.

If you want to know if guns are in the home or if they are stored safely, ASK THE PARENTS, NOT the children. The parents have the wherewithal to tell the doctor to "stick it" if they ask questions like that. Kids don't.

Grand Stand   ·  February 28, 2006 7:29 PM

While I protect the free speech right of doctors to ask such questions, I'd question their integrity if they did. I'd never go back to such a doctor, and I might consider reporting him to the appropriate licensing board for unethical conduct, as well as sue them. (They are not only invading their patients' privacy, they're giving bad advice.)

There's a big difference, though, between ethical concerns and free speech. As I keep saying, legality is not morality.

If they don't already do so, I think the NRA should have a list of NRA approved doctors.

Eric Scheie   ·  February 28, 2006 7:49 PM

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