It was written by one of Wheeler’s DRGO members, a practicing psychiatrist in upstate New York, who Dr. Tim says “has hit the ground running.” I concur. It’s a great read.
Docs, Glocks and Patients
by Robert B. Young, MD
A three judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on July 25 that the Florida state law popularly called “Docs vs. Glocks” is indeed constitutional. The majority ruled that it is a “legitimate regulation” of physicians’ conduct intended to protect “patient privacy and curtail abuses of the physician-patient relationship” and nothing to do with physicians’ right of free speech. Physicians involved in the suit (backed by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence) now plan to appeal for an en banc review by the entire 11th Circuit Court bench. Given the very few cases that ever go from panel to en banc review, the issue is likely decided for Florida by the panel’s ruling.
This is a very good outcome for gun owners who prefer to share that information only as they wish. There have been reports of doctors terminating care because of resistance to answering such questions. Now Florida doctors can be fined and such questioning can be considered professional misconduct unless a direct bearing on the evaluation can be documented. However, it’s disappointing that it came to this. As a physician and an American, I object to the government telling me what may or may not be said between me and my patients or anyone else.
It’s never been necessary for patients to reveal all the details of their lives in order to receive medical care, nor should they. Now, like every other bit of healthcare data, their answers can unavoidably end up in large databases in this age of electronic medical records. Usually there is a chief concern, almost never related to risks of violence or firearm mishandling, so there is no reason to raise the question of gun ownership with the patient. As a psychiatrist I have more cause than most doctors to worry about access to weapons by potentially dangerous patients, yet even so I rarely need to inquire.
While Florida doctors may no longer query patients routinely about gun ownership, there is no problem in providing information to all their patients regarding good safety practices in any area. Providing everyone information is a surer approach to patient education anyway than doing so only when they reply “Yes” to a question many would rather not answer.
But why seek gun education from the American Medical Association (AMA) or other medical specialty organizations that see gun ownership mainly as a health hazard? Expert advice from people who actually know guns, and how to use them safely and responsibly, is available from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Even the sound practice of storing guns and ammunition in separate, locked places isn’t always right if they are intended to be used for emergency protection. Our vehicles can be deadlier than guns, but we feel safe teaching our children not to misuse them despite leaving keys unsecured on hooks and dressers.
Besides relying on laws like Florida’s, there is a direct approach to this problem: educating (by patients, too) gun-fearing doctors about the value and proper handling of firearms, and exercising the prerogative to choose compatible physicians. Ultimately, the doctor-patient relationship takes place by mutual consent and only succeeds if patients feel respectfully and caringly attended to. If that isn’t happening, patients should say so and then, if it doesn’t improve, switch doctors. Patients can leave doctors for any reason. Doctors may only discharge patients for serious non-compliance with recommendations, not for owning things a doctor doesn’t like.
There actually are physicians who like and enjoy guns, and know how to handle them. They enjoy talking to other gun-owners, patients included.
Robert B. Young, MD is a psychiatrist in private practice in Pittsford, NY, and is a member of the NRA and of the AMA.