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Friday, January 18, 2013

Physicians and the Obama Administration are Allies on Gun Data

In Florida, organized medicine is so far winning the free speech argument about gun violence.

As part of his new initiative against gun violence, President Barack Obama announced an executive action to protect the right of clinicians to talk to their patients about gun safety.

How many of us can recall, when we were very young, prowling around our parents home to find secret treasurers?  I sure do.  In those day, however, we never worried about finding guns.  Now, clinicians can ask parents if guns are hidden in the home.
The President's executive action, one of 23 unveiled at a White House event, states that the administration will issue guidance clarifying that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), contrary to what some believe, does not prohibit or regulate communication about firearms between clinicians and patients.

In doing so, the president jumped squarely into a fray between organized medicine and the National Rifle Association (NRA).

This executive action provides broad support for physicians who have taken the state of Florida to court over a 2011 law that prohibits them from asking patients if they own a gun. Florida lawmakers and the NRA view such a question as a threat to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Organized medicine counters that the question is only a prelude — when the answer is affirmative — to discussing safe gun storage and other practices, lest a 4-year-old discover a loaded pistol in a desk drawer.

Obama is siding with the physicians. "Doctors and other healthcare providers...need to be able to ask about firearms in their patients' homes and safe storage of those firearms," the administration said in the press release, "especially if their patients show signs of certain mental illnesses, or if they have a young child or mentally ill family members at home."

The administration noted that "medical groups continue to fight against state laws attempting to ban doctors from asking these questions."

Medical Societies Applaud Obama's Stance on Gun Question
In the Florida lawsuit, organized medicine is winning the fight for free medical speech about guns, at least, so far.

State chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and the American College of Physicians (ACP), along with several individual physicians, sued the state of Florida in a federal district court in Miami to overturn what they called a gag law on gun questions. US District Judge Marcia Cooke struck down the law as unconstitutional, saying it had nothing to do with the Second Amendment but everything to do with the First Amendment and its guarantee of free speech.

Now, inquiries about gun ownership are allowed if a physician believes they are relevant to the health or safety of the patient or others. However, Judge Cooke agreed with the plaintiffs that this exception is too vaguely worded to offer any assurance to clinicians that they could pose the gun question and not risk getting in trouble with the state medical board.
Physicians and clinicians are well positioned to warn a parent...that a teenager who shows symptoms of depression or impulsivity could harm himself or others if given access to a firearm," the medical societies wrote.

Although the National Rifle Association is hypervigilant about protecting Second Amendment Rights for Americans to bear arms, they're blaze about protecting the rights of innocent people from preventable gun violence.  It's time the NRA aligns itself with the American people rather than their own zealous ideology.

Physicians and clinicians can finally excercise our freedom of speech, especially while assessing the safety of children who are exposed to guns in the home.  Just like asking about immunization, allergies to medicines and diet, clinicians can now assess children for risk of preventable death by guns.  Finally.  Let's hope this executive action will prevent many gun violence deaths.  

Unfortunately, we'll never be able to count the lives of children saved, but we can now feel like there's something we can do to prevent the spiraling number of preventable gun violence deaths.

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