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What Can Docs Do to Help Prevent Gun Violence?

By Brad Broker

While President Obama Sunday evening acknowledged that no law is capable of preventing all violence, he said “that can’t be an excuse for inaction.”

At an interfaith vigil in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman Friday killed 20 first graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama said that the nation has failed to protect its children.  “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?” he asked. “We will have to change.”

And with those words, the gun-control debate will commence.

We can debate the meaning of the Second Amendment, but it’s a futile argument.  The right to bear arms is not going anywhere.  But is it an unlimited right to bear any and all arms that any person wishes to bear?

Some gun advocates would say yes.

However, consider the First Amendment: freedom of speech – a pretty good amendment.  But that doesn’t give one the right to yell “fire!” in a movie theater (even though the court case that accompanied that phrase had nothing to do with a fire in a theater, but rather a “clear and present danger”).  Why?  Because the safety of our society and its collective citizens outweighs one person’s individual right to speech that may incite a riot (or, as the court has defined it,  “imminent lawless action”).

So let’s find a way to bear those arms while protecting the innocent.

Both sides of the aisle will have to compromise on this one.  Gun control advocates will have to admit that ultimately people do kill people, regardless of the weapon. President Obama said that much last night.  But, at the same time, gun rights advocates must acknowledge that people can’t kill people with guns if they don’t have guns.

The Wall Street Journal offered an editorial today on the mental health side of the argument:

“Federal law generally prohibits the possession or acquisition of a firearm by a person “who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution.” Putting aside the offensive label and legal jargon, in simple terms this means that a person is prohibited for life from possessing firearms if the person has ever been: involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or found by a court to be a danger to himself or others, found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity or incompetent to stand trial, or unable to manage his own affairs. It does not matter whether the person currently has a mental illness.

Federal law is both under- and over-inclusive. It is under-inclusive because plenty of people with severe mental illnesses escape the ban on possessing firearms—provided, for example, they have managed not to be formally committed to a mental institution, or found by a court to be incompetent or insane. The ban is over-inclusive because many people recover from mental illness and lead healthy and productive lives. A single involuntary commitment for a severe eating disorder at age 20 will preclude a person from possessing a hunting rifle for the rest of his life.”

Maybe that’s one starting point to the discussion.  Maybe health professionals should be an active voice in the regulation of guns.

How about Florida’s recent attempt to prevent physicians from asking patient’s about gun ownership?  The gun-rights side believes this is an invasion of privacy.  If a patient is really offended by the question, maybe there should be a concern for safety of that patient and the public.  That law is temporarily on hold, but what are your thoughts?  How can physicians help to prevent another senseless tragedy?


One comment

  1. as a practicing crna, i find no reason to inquire of my patients information not relevant to the medical process at hand, or the procedure about to be performed. what earthly purpose would it serve to ask a patient if he/she owns guns prior to a hemorrhoidectomy?

    and while we have laws against yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre (i am not sure there is a law specific to that) we have over 20,000 laws governing the purchase, possession, use, and type of firearm a “mere” citizen may possess, where he/she may possess it, where he/she may transport it, and where he/she may use it. as those laws have proliferated, we have become more “unsafe”.

    my doctor has no business inquiring into my gun ownership, nor lack thereof. it is of no medical value to know this information. there are times when the physician may need to know if a patient has come into contact with certain chemicals or substances, but this need not be a general question. i personally would seek another physician, or outright lie if this question had ever been asked of me.

    the second amendment is there not for hunting, target shooting, or recreation; rather to give me, the citizen the means to protect myself from a tyrannical government, should that situation arise. further, those who have prevented responsible trained people (of which i am one) from carrying arms in school and other venues are misguided at best, and culpable in every death resulting from said policies, at worst.

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