When does a gun become a personal health issue?
To pediatricians, guns are a health issue.
Firearms remain a
for young people. The doctors say the evidence shows that homes are
safer for kids, and adults for that matter, when guns aren't around.
Pediatricians say doctors should ask their patients — or their
parents, in the case of very young children — if there is a gun in the
That seemingly simple question has proved controversial,
though pediatricians say it shouldn't be. "We ask patients about all
kinds of things," , president of the American Academy of Pediatrics,
tells Shots. Doctors ask about the setting on the water heater (turn it
down to prevent burns) and whether family cyclists wear bike helmets, he
When it comes to guns, McInerny says, "We know it's
important to ask." Pediatricians aren't looking to take people's guns
away, he says, and the information will stay confidential. "We're not
going to tell anyone," he says.
Instead, the question could
lead to a teachable moment. "If you have a gun, at least keep it safe,"
he says. He says guns should be stored unloaded and locked up.
Ammunition should be stored separately and locked up, too.
Pediatricians aren't the only ones asking. A Colorado doctor, for instance,
earlier this year about how an elderly patient's suicide using a gun
made him more likely to ask patients about firearms. For years, the
leading professional group for internists that its doctors talk about guns and safety with patients.
guns are unique. The right to bear them is constitutionally protected,
and some people consider their ownership to be a private matter that
should be off-limits, even in a doctor's office.
In Florida, a law to restrict doctors from asking about guns . Doctors asserted their constitutionally protected right to free speech and challenged the law in court. A has blocked it so far, but the state of Florida has appealed. Arguments in the case in Miami.
wondered how Americans view the issue and what their experience has
been. So we asked in a nationwide telephone poll conducted with our
partner Truven Health Analytics.
What did we find out? Well,
about a third of respondents said there is at least one gun at home. Not
many had been asked about guns by their doctors, though — only 7
percent. Overall, a third of respondents believe that providers of
health care should ask patients about the presence of guns at home.
what about banning a doctor's question to a patient about that kind of
conversation? That question turned out to be divisive. About 44 percent
of people either support or strongly support a ban. On the other hand,
37 percent oppose or strongly oppose blocking a doctor from asking about
"It's stunning to me that people would feel that
strongly that physicians should be prohibited from asking about a gun —
and across all ages," says , chief medical officer at Truven. "Gun
violence is a safety issue as much as seat belts are a safety issue."
For that reason, he says, doctors have a responsibility to know what's
going on in the homes of patients.
We asked , head of the Johns
Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, for his take on the
results. He notes that very few people in the poll had direct experience
with this sort of conversation with a doctor.
hypothetical questions, you sort of have to take the responses with a
grain of salt," he says. "If a doctor actually speaks to them and
explains why it's relevant to their health and safety — and did so in a
respectful, thoughtful way — I suspect a number of people who said no
would be perfectly fine with it."
People are free to disregard
the advice of doctors, and often do. But Webster says parents may store
guns more safely, even if they aren't willing to remove firearms from
the home when counseled about the risks to kids, after talking with a
The poll, conducted during the first half of April,
gathered responses from 3,009 people across the country. The margin of
error was plus or minus 1.8 percentage points. You can find the
questions and full results . Past polls can be found .