Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit emergency room doctors, psychiatrists and pediatricians from asking patients if they own or have access to a gun. Doctors would face stiff fines: $10,000 for the first offense; at least $25,000 for the second offense and up to $100,000 for the third offense.
I’m not making this up. In fact, on Tuesday the Florida Senate’s Criminal Justice Association voted 4-1 in favor of the bill. The initial draft of the bill made it a felony to quiz a patient about gun ownership and included fines of $5 million.
The bill is the byproduct of a controversial story about a pediatrician in central Florida who asked a patient’s mother if there were firearms in the home. When she refused to answer, he gave her 30 days to find a new pediatrician. The doctor says he routinely asks patients about risk factors, such as texting while driving and whether there is a pool at the home. Sounds like a good doctor to me.
I have a problem with this legislation. We have this thing called THE FIRST AMENDMENT and it guarantees everyone – including doctors – free speech. As a journalist I take the First Amendment very seriously. It is utterly outrageous and embarrassing that a lawmaker would consider prohibiting free speech. I mean, come on. If the First Amendment allows Dr. Dre to sing about bitches, hoes and tricks, shouldn’t it protect a doctor questioning a patient about risk factors for suicide?
The argument for censoring doctors sounds like this: “A growing political agenda is being carried out in examination rooms,” said Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. “It has become about the politics of some medical doctors and it has to stop.”
In 2007, 34,598 people killed themselves, according to the National Vital Statistics Survey report. About half of them used guns. A 2008 article in the New England Journal of Medicine that reviewed studies on guns and suicide found “at least a dozen U.S. case–control studies in the peer-reviewed literature, all of which have found that a gun in the home is associated with an increased risk of suicide. The increase in risk is large, typically 2 to 10 times that in …”
Additionally, another study found that the higher risk of suicide in homes with firearms applies not only to the gun owner but also to the gun owner’s spouse and children. (Click here to see what’s happening in your state regarding firearm access.)
Look, firearm access is a risk factor for suicide. Personally, I want my physician to assess any and all of my risk factors – whether for heart disease, diabetes or suicide.
This debate pits two of the most politically powerful special interest groups in the U.S. against each other. The National Rifle Association and the American Medical Association. Advocates for victims of domestic and child abuse will also join the fray. It will be an epic smack down.
Maybe what we need are some Miranda rights for patients. Rights that a doctor must read to patients before asking any questions – whether about fried food, stress, exercise, alcohol consumption or guns.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used to prevent, treat or heal any disease or injury you may have. You have the right to speak freely. If you cannot or will not answer my questions, I may not be able to help you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”
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Last reviewed: 24 Feb 2011