image of barnstable county courthouse

New Laws That Muzzle Doctors on Gun Safety Are Dangerous

We complain, in the U.S., that our doctors don’t know us: office visits last only a few minutes, conversations are curt and high-tech testing takes the place of talking. Now, perversely, one state has passed a law expressly forbidding doctors from asking certain questions about patients’ health and lifestyle.

The questions concern guns and gun safety. This year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has been hearing arguments about a Florida statute that says doctors cannot ask a patient about gun ownership—including safety issues and children’s access—unless they believe such information is relevant to the patient’s medical care. If the law is upheld, doctors will not be able to talk to patients about one of the biggest threats to public health in the U.S.—guns were involved in slightly more than 11,000 homicides, 21,000 suicides and 500 accidental deaths in 2013, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To wall off this topic from doctor-patient conversations is a dangerous step.