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Doctors and guns | Globe Editorial

Florida caves in to the NRA

July 5, 2011

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NOT EVEN the doctor-patient relationship is safe from the gun lobby. Florida last month became the first state to prevent doctors from asking patients about gun ownership, except in situations where physicians sense that ownership is directly related to patient safety or the safety of others. The National Rifle Association claims that pediatricians, in particular, are on an anti-gun political campaign, harassing families about gun ownership. NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer told National Public Radio, “We take our children to pediatricians for medical care - not moral judgment, not privacy intrusions.’’

But there are good reasons why the American Academy of Pediatrics considers inquiries about guns to be important in protecting children. Doctors can advise inexperienced parents on ways that young children might accidentally play with guns, or that older kids might be tempted to use them. And doctors shouldn’t have to pause and consider whether they have an imminent safety concern. Doctors don’t need to diagnose an illness before they can offer advice on nutrition and exercise; and the same should go when suggesting reasons to keep guns from kids.

Firearm homicide and firearm suicide are the second and fifth leading causes of injury death for young people between 10 and 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Homicides and suicides together account for nearly a third of all deaths of young men and women between 15 and 24, exceeding the percentage of motor vehicle accidents. The CDC declared that “violence-related firearm deaths remain an important public health concern in the United States.’’

Not surprisingly, given the political clout of the NRA, the CDC has suffered a severe withering of funds to study firearms violence. Now, the NRA wants doctors to stop asking basic questions. Medical associations in Florida are challenging the law. Their success would help prevent copycat legislation from spreading. The NRA always says if gun owners lose their rights to bear arms, everyone’s freedom will be imperiled. In its myopic zeal, however, the NRA is now trampling freedom in one of the most precious and private of sanctums, the examination room.