Editorial: Guns and health


Published: Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 4:16 p.m.

It's embarrassing that Florida is developing a reputation for ill-conceived laws involving guns.

Perhaps none fits that description better than the "Docs vs. Glocks" law.

The law restricts doctors from asking patients about gun ownership. It was inspired by the story of an Ocala pediatrician who asked his patient's mother whether there were guns in her home. When she refused to answer, he told her to find another doctor.

The law, passed in 2011 and formally called the "Firearm Owners' Privacy Act," was thrown out by a federal judge in July. But the state is appealing the ruling, leading a state senator from Miami Gardens to recently file a measure that would repeal the law.

It appears a repeal is the only way to get the state to stop wasting time and resources, only to defend a law that addresses a non-existent problem.

Medical confidentiality is already protected under the law. Clinicians need to be able to ask about anything that affects a patient's health. When they're talking with the family of a child or dementia patient, asking whether a gun is in the house fits the bill.

There are exemptions for questions involving patient safety in the "Docs vs. Glocks" law, leading one to wonder what's the point of the measure. It simply seems to be another National Rifle Association-led effort to fuel paranoia in gun owners that the government is coming to take away their guns, in this case with the help of doctors.

The bill does serve one legitimate purpose: bringing attention to the idea that guns are a public health issue. The American Medical Association encourages its members to ask parents about guns and educate them about safe storage.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a similar recommendation. One in five deaths among people under 20 years old was caused by a firearm-related injury, according to the academy's research.

The gun lobby takes issue with that kind of research. Some members of Congress in the mid-1990s tried to eliminate and ended up cutting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding for research into gun injuries, the Atlantic reported. More recently, the CDC and National Institutes of Health were blocked from funding work that promotes gun control.

A group of researchers, including two at the University of Florida, sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden asking that barriers to firearms-related research be removed. There were more than 4 million firearms injuries from 1972 to 2012 yet just three NIH studies involving gun-related injuries in all that time, according to the letter.

Last week, President Barack Obama issued 23 executive orders intended to address gun violence. One directed the CDC to research the causes and prevention of gun violence. Another clarified that the Affordable Care Act doesn't prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.

A national conversation about guns is long overdue. It's fitting that the conversation should start in a doctor's office and involve common-sense steps that gun owners can take to keep their kids safe.

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