Pediatricians Spark Controversy by Asking About Guns

| by Dabney Bailey
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Pediatricians with the American Academy of Pediatrics have come under fire from gun-rights advocates after the AAP advised pediatricians to ask patients whether or not there is a gun in the home.

Dr. Thomas McInerny, president of the AAP, assured critics that asking about guns is simply a matter of practicality and safety. The AAP similarly asks parents about the setting on their home water heater and whether or not the family wears helmets while riding a bike. Patients are not obligated to answer all questions and doctors could not share information about gun ownership even if they wanted to because of doctor-patient confidentiality.

National Public Radio conducted a national phone-based survey in order to ask about this issue. About 44 percent of Americans supported a ban against doctors asking patients about guns. Conversely, 37 percent want doctors to be able to ask about guns in the home.

"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," said Dr. Michael Taylor, chief medical officer at Truven. "Gun violence is a safety issue as much as seat belts are a safety issue."

Daniel Webster, head of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, argued that a lot of the debate revolves around semantics. Instead of framing it in a way that it invades privacy, he believes that doctors should tackle the issue in such a way to promote safety.

"Asking people hypothetical questions, you sort of have to take the responses with a grain of salt," Webster said. "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."

Webster’s approach is reasonable. Regardless of whether or not there is a gun in the house, a doctor could just assume that a gun exists and either hand out a pamphlet or go over general gun safety tips to keep children safe. Gun owners would not necessarily disclose whether they own a gun in order to benefit from the information.

If NPR had called you on the phone, what would you have said? Do you think doctors should be able to ask about guns?

Source: NPR