According to an article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on May 17th, 2016,physicians can and should ask their patients about firearms possession. Authors Garen J Wintimute, Marian EBetz and Megan L Rannaystate that physicians can ask their patients about firearms possession if the information is relevant to the safety of their health and to the safety of others.
The second amendment of the US Bill of Rights (1791) gives a person the right to keep a firearm. Moreover, the Supreme Court also ruled that the second amendment protects a person’s right to keep a firearm.
However, the possession of firearms and guns could be fatal to both the gun owner and to others. Misuse and abuse of guns can cause serious calamities if used by individuals with poor mental health.
Steven E Weinberger, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive of the American College of Physicians,does not agree with these laws and mentioned that physicians should be able to legally question any patient with a history of mental illness about the firearms they own.
In order to evaluate the mental and physical state of a patient,experts believe that a physician has the right to ask questions about any firearms owned by their patients. They can collect and share such information with authoritative third parties, if needed, since this is vital data. According to the article authors, the relevant information would not just be important for the patient’s safety but would also be essential for the well-being of others.
Three general conditions in which information about firearms possession could prove beneficial, are:
- Firstly, Prediction of any signs of homicidal and suicidal actions from the information given by the patient in a one-on-one session with the physician.
- Secondly, if a person has a history of continually violent behavior, series of mental illnesses in the past and may show signs of violence in the future as well.
- Thirdly, if a person belongs to a group with a high rate of self-harm and gun violence and is likely to be a victim of violence.
If any of these conditions appear in a patient’s behavior,possession of any firearm would be extremely alarming. The right thing to do in such a situation would be confiscating all weapons in the patient’s possession.
On the other hand, in 2011, the state of Florida passed a law restricting physicians from inquiring their patients about firearms. The proponents believed that adding such information to a patient’s medical record would threaten their right to keep firearms. They argued that such information could also be used to expropriate their guns.
However, this law completely defies the first amendment of The Bill of Rights by contradicting with the physician’s freedom of speech. The first amendment states that every person has a right to speak and express their feelings with the added liberty of being able to choose whether to exercise their religion or not.
According to the Florida “Docs and Glocks”law, the doctor is not supposed to ask his patient about firearms. A patient responded to a doctor’s question about possessing a firearm by stating that the possession of a gun has nothing to do with the health of his child.
Every year, 55,300 people in the US die of gun violence. In 2015, some 13,286 people died of gun violence with the number still increasing rapidly (BBC report).Witnessing the current situation, the article authors stated that physicians should certainly ask their patients about firearms if the information is relevant to their mental health condition.
However, since it is very uncommon among physicians to counsel their patients about firearm and guns, doctors will be very unfamiliar with the pros and cons of keeping firearms. Yet barriers regarding doctor-patient conversations about firearms can be easily overcome by carrying out one-on-one counseling sessions and giving guidance to patients about firearm usage.
Even in Florida,which strongly protects their citizens’ right to bear weapons, doctors can ask their patients about firearms possession if the information is relevant to both the patient and society’s well-being.