Another law that tries to force an extreme agenda at the expense of common sense
According to a story that appeared on Yahoo! News today, the Florida legislature is preparing to pass a law – being pushed by the National Rifle Association – which goes far beyond the issue of gun rights. It strays dangerously into interfering with the responsible practice of health care. This law would allow the punishment or criminal prosecution of healthcare providers who ask their patients about the presence of guns in the home.
I will allow a moment for the utter craziness of that to sink in…
In the words of the story:
Last week, the state legislature approved a bill that would make it legal to impose punishment on doctors who ask about guns kept in the home. The bill awaits approval from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is known to support gun rights and will likely sign the bill, said Dr. Louis St. Petery, a pediatrician in Tallahassee, Fla., and executive vice president of the Florida Pediatric Society.
“We feel that physicians will be reluctant to ask about guns in the home as a result of this legislation. As a result we expect that, unfortunately, there will be an increase in injury and death of children and adolescents due to improperly stored guns,” St. Petery said.
Similar legislation has been proposed in Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama and North Carolina.
Supporters of the Florida bill, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), say they want to stop doctors from invading their privacy, and are concerned the information may be used against them by insurance companies.
As a mental health professional, I have had to ask people about the presence of guns in their homes on a number of occasions. On several of those occasions, I have had to notify police when I believed that there was a danger to either the person who had access to the guns, or to someone else. One of those individuals threatened to sue the employee assistance program I worked for, after the police removed the guns from the home and prevented the individual from having access to them. I felt that not only was I protected by acting in good faith under existing case law, but that I would be acting in a manner that created more liability if I did not report what I considered to be an imminent safety risk to the proper authorities. A law like this (if extended to non-physicians like me) would create an untenable conflict between my professional responsibility and breaking an unreasonable and senseless law.
I would do exactly what I did previously, law or no law. I would not knowingly allow a person to be placed into a hazardous situation. Imagine having physicians and other health care professionals risk losing their licenses or suffer criminal charges for simply trying to help protect people. If this happens, at least it might help point to the idiocy of some of these extreme measures being forced on the public by special interest groups, like the gun lobbyists.
This law would only – for now – apply to physicians. The pediatrician quoted in the article rightly fears that children would be placed at risk of injury or death by the presence of guns in the home, especially guns that were not properly locked and secured. As the article points out, adolescents make suicide attempts more often than other age groups, and the presence of guns increases the lethality risk of suicidal attempts by a huge degree.
The cruel irony is that this attempt is being hidden behind lofty-sounding talk about privacy. Believe me, doctors and other health care professionals value privacy highly – certainly more highly than any NRA lobbyist. The current laws in many states already provide that anyone who is treated for serious mental health problems may have difficulty obtaining a firearm owners identification card. This is only common sense. And even with this level of protection, there are huge opportunities for an individual with an active serious mental illness to get access to firearms.
But the concerns about “privacy” expressed in the stated motives for the law reveal its backers’ true agenda. It’s an attempt to make an end run around any attempt to regulate or control firearms. In the process, it punishes the wrong people, and creates unnecessary risks of danger, supposedly as a way to address a non-existent problem. Like many other heavy-handed measures that have been pushed in recent years, it meddles with the doctor-patient relationship. And the true agenda is to browbeat the general public into knuckling under to a special interest group. Opposing this law does not mean any disrespect to Second Amendment rights, any more than asking an intoxicated person if they plan on driving (Something else healthcare providers do regularly) interferes with the right of free assembly.