What to do when your doctor asks about guns by Dr. Timothy Wheeler

Article Type: 
Published Date: 
Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Have you had the experience of going to your doctor for a particular problem, let’s say headaches, and been surprised by the doctor asking you about a completely unrelated subject — whether you have a gun in your home?

It’s no accident that doctors’ or health plans’ questions about guns in your home have become routine. In the 1980s and 1990s medical professional organizations declared a culture war on gun ownership in America. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) developed an official policy (2012 version here) urging pediatricians to probe their young patients’ parents about guns in their homes.

Claiming only to be concerned about “gun safety”, the latest code term for gun control, the AAP pushed its member doctors to advise families to get rid of their guns. One of the authors of the original AAP anti-gun policy, Dr. Katherine Christoffel, was quoted in an AMA journal as saying “Guns are a virus that must be eradicated.”

Wheeler Doctor imageThe American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Physicians (ACP) have also mounted aggressive and highly publicized campaigns against gun ownership and advised their member physicians to pressure their patients to get rid of their guns. Other physician specialty groups have done the same.

Many people are rightly outraged by this unprofessional behavior of some physicians. Several states, most notably Florida, have passed laws to stop doctors and other health care professionals from misusing their patients’ trust to push a political agenda of gun control. Such abuse of authority and trust by a physician is called an ethical boundary violation.

You may encounter the question in your health plan’s standard health appraisal questionnaire. Even though it may not be of your doctor’s making, it’s still part of your permanent medical record. Or your doctor may have a personal prejudice against gun ownership, shaped by her training in medical school or residency. Either way, it is important for people to know some very important facts:

• Doctors receive absolutely no training about firearm safety, mechanics, or tactics in medical school or residency. They are completely unqualified by their training to advise anyone about guns.

• Gun ownership is a civil right. A doctor’s abuse of his position of trust to pressure you to give up that civil right is professionally and morally wrong. In some states it is illegal. You DO NOT have to tolerate it.

• You as a consumer have great power in the doctor-patient relationship. Do not be afraid to use it.

Let’s be clear. We’re not talking about a doctor who casually talks with you about guns out of a common interest you both may have. If you and your doc get to comparing notes about your favorite hunting rifles or latest trip to the gun range, that is a world apart from a calculated effort to prejudice you against gun ownership.

So what can you do when your doctor or your health plan starts asking you about guns in your home? Your doctor may very likely just be going along with the guidelines of his or her gun-hating medical organization, such as the AAP or ACP. One survey showed that although many doctors agree that guns are a public health problem, only a minority feel it’s right to ask their patients about guns in their homes. Many doctors sense that it’s wrong and don’t allow themselves to be recruited as gun control activists by their medical organizations.

A range of options is available to you, some sending a more powerful message than others. These are updated from DRGO’s original recommendations, since the medical profession has changed so much in the last two decades.

1) Politely refuse to answer the doctor’s question or the health plan’s questionnaire item about guns. You can either explain your discomfort with the question or decline to give a reason.

2) If the gun question(s) appears on your health plan’s routine health assessment questionnaire, file a formal written complaint with the health plan. Every health plan has a member complaint process, often prescribed by law. Your complaint will be registered and the health plan will respond.

3) If the health plan responds with the excuse that their questions about your guns are standard medical practice that they must follow, you can take the complaint to the next step—file a written complaint with your state agency that regulates health plans. For example, in California you would follow the complaint procedure on the Department of Managed Health Care web site. It’s your right as a patient under California law.

4) If your doctor persists in asking intrusive questions about guns in your home, you can also file a complaint specifically against him or her with your health plan. Such complaints are taken seriously, and the doctor will be called to account for it. Having one or more complaints about ethical boundary violations on her record will make her think twice about doing it again.

5) Internet consumer rating sites have created another way doctors can be publicly rated on the basis of service, attitude, and behavior. Some commonly used rating sites are Yelp.com, Healthgrades.com, Vitals.com, and RateMDs.

6) Increasingly, doctors’ pay from Medicare and insurance companies is tied to how they score on patient satisfaction surveys. These are often sent randomly to patients, but you can request one to fill out. You can have a powerful impact on a doctor’s conduct by reporting the doctor’s unethical questioning about your guns.

7) If the doctor’s conduct is especially offensive, as was the case with this Florida pediatrician, you have the right to submit a complaint to the doctor’s licensing board. This is an agency in your state government that holds the ultimate power of licensure over your doctor. A quick internet search for “medical board” in your state should take you to the official form for filing a complaint. This is a step that should not be taken lightly.

Remember when writing your complaint to be polite. Explain why you find the doctor’s or health plan’s behavior unacceptable. Include the powerful points we’ve discussed:

• Your doctor is professionally unqualified to give expert advice on firearms

• Your right to own firearms is a civil right that is none of your doctor’s business

• A doctor misusing his or her authority and trust to push a political agenda of gun control is an ethical boundary violation. Such unprofessional conduct is not acceptable.

Your right to own a firearm is enshrined in the Constitution. Don’t let any doctor or health plan intimidate you into giving up your civil rights.

Written by Dr. Timothy Wheeler

Dr. Timothy Wheeler is a southern California surgeon, and founder and director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership (DRGO). DRGO is a nationwide network of 1,400 medical doctors, health care professionals, scientists, and others who support the safe and lawful use of firearms for any legitimate purpose. DRGO was launched in 1994 and is now a project of the Second Amendment Foundation. DRGO’s message of responsible gun ownership has been featured in national media, including Fox News television, the CBS news program This Morning, and on CBS News 60 Minutes, and on radio programs in media markets large and small. Their website is: http://www.drgo.us. Email address: DRGO@Verizon.net.

This article was originally published at DRGO.us on June 27, 2015. The photos used to illustrate the article appear on DRGO.us.

The article may be cited as: Wheeler T. What to do whe your doctor asks about guns. HaciendaPublishing.com, May 31, 2016. Available from: http://www.haciendapublishing.com/articles/what-do-when-your-doctor-asks-about-guns-dr-timothy-wheeler

Copyright ©2016 Timothy Wheeler, M.D.

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Comments on this post

Good info — doctors asking about guns

Although I have not had this experience, this information could be most useful should this occur. A plethora of responses come to my mind, yet the appropriate method of forcing punishment through the proper channels necessary do not. This article lays an appropriate response if questioned, whom to contact if such improper questioning takes place, and how to escalate complaints if necessary.
When they finish with the 2nd Amendment, they will surely go after the 1st, and soon we will be "enemies of the state," ready to be shipped off for reeducation.

No Right to Concealed Carry, Says Ninth Circuit Court !

No Right to Concealed Carry, Says Ninth Circuit Court 
You have no constitutional right to carry a concealed firearm in public. That’s what the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled, by a 7-4 margin, in a case that puts the battle for the next Supreme Court justice into even brighter focus.

Remember, the Supreme Court ruled, in two 5-4 decisions, that the Second Amendment protects an individual right (District of Columbia v. Heller) and that the protection of the right to keep and bears arms applies at the state level as well (McDonald v. City of Chicago). The recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia would put those and subsequent Second Amendment cases at a 4-4 split, meaning lower court rulings would stand.  And, as we know, almost all lower court rulings are terrible decisions written by rabidly anti-gun judges. This means that whoever replaces Scalia will tip the balance.

No Concealed Firearms in Public

The Ninth Circuit case, Peruta v. San Diego, involves a challenge to California’s concealed carry laws. 
The Plaintiffs sued the San Diego County Sheriff, challenging the state’s interpretation that the “good cause” requirement to obtain a concealed carry license requires a specific threat of harm to the applicant.  General personal safety doesn’t count, in San Diego’s view. 

“We hold that the Second Amendment does not preserve or protect a right of a member of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public,” wrote Judge William A. Fletcher, a President Bill Clinton appointee. When the case was first filed, California law permitted unloaded open carry.  But while the case was pending, the California legislature banned open carry as well.  Therefore, Californians are now almost completely prevented -- with a few minor exceptions -- from carrying firearms in public. 
This decision is a reversal of a 2014 Ninth Circuit ruling by a three-judge panel that the Second Amendment “does require that the states permit some form of carry for self-defense outside the home.”

But California Attorney General Kamala Harris requested that court rehear the case, with more judges participating, leading to this more recent ruling. Kamala Harris is currently running for U.S. Senate in California, putting her in a position to vote on the next Supreme Court nominee.

GOA: The Second Amendment is the Standard

Gun Owners of America filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the case.  In it, we argue that the Second Amendment is the standard to which gun laws should be held, not the whims and fancies of modern-day judges:

The words “to keep and bear arms” include no words of limitation. They do not describe a right that is subject to “reasonable regulation.” The Second Amendment could have stated “bear arms openly,” or “keep arms within the home,” but it did not. Absent any such limitation, “keep and bear” must be given their broadest ordinary meaning.  Heller explained, “[a]t the time of the founding, as now, to ‘bear’ meant to ‘carry’”, defining carrying as “‘wear, bear, or carry... upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket....’”

To ensure against contrary opinions of modern judges who might disagree with the Founders’ principles that the right to bear arms applies inside and outside the home, Heller states unequivocally that this right is “‘for the purpose ... of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person,’” without regard to place. The Ninth Circuit Court blatantly ignored the Second Amendment, just as it ignored the Heller decision. Many in the pro-gun community popped the cork prematurely after the Heller and McDonald.  After all, to live by the court is to die by the court.  The modern view that the courts are endued with superpowers that reach beyond any constitutional limitations has eroded the very purpose of the judicial branch of government. In an article on the Peruta decision, two of our attorneys write:

It is the job of courts to interpret the language of the Constitution, not to ignore it. But the en bancNinth Circuit failed in that elementary task.  Its opinion is completely illegitimate under the Supreme Court’s Heller and McDonald decisions, and as a matter of constitutional law.  There is an all-out war against your gun rights in all three branches of government, and GOA is fighting on every front. I urge you to join GOA in these battles today…

Tim Macy
GOA Chairman

P.S. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers nine western states, just ruled that you have no constitutional right to carry a concealed firearm in public.

DRGO very active!

Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership (A project of the Second Amendment Foundation):

June 3, 2016 Update News:

This past month, DRGO's coverage focused on anti-gun medical 'researchers' and how they offer recommendations based on incomplete data and flimsy, goal-directed analysis.  We examine work from the turn of this century right up to the minute, and how the goal of gun restriction keeps shaping the choice and interpretation of data. 

In politics, we elaborated on efforts in California to deprive citizens of even more Second Amendment rights.  Biased media and self-interested professional positions were called out.  And in a practical vein, some role-playing about how to respond to doctors prying into patients' right to possess firearms. 

New articles:

Statistical Malpractice: The Standard in Anti-Gun Research--Parts 1 & 2, 5/31 & 6/2/16: Our senior colleague, Miguel A. Faria, Jr., MD allowed us to reprint his classic and extensive examination from 2002 of the abuse of statistics endemic in anti-gun, non-'scientific' literature.  This is seminal work calling spades spades and emperors naked, which remains as relevant today as ever. 

A Gun Owner Goes to the Doctor 5/26/16: Dr. Young presents three ways that doctors might interact with patients about firearms.  They're not always good (but they can be managed). 

Elites Double Down on Medical Gun Control Politics 5/24/16: Dr. Wheeler reminds us how seriously media elites propagandize for gun control as the answer to 'gun violence' while selectively ignoring the value of firearms in defense against violent crime.  Which is, of course, DRGO's position. 

Studying Anti-Gun Studies: Confusion, Obfuscation and Irrelevance 5/19/16: Garen Wintemute's latest publication in Annals of Internal Medicine promotes physicians exploring gun ownership with patients, leading straight to his recurring theme: the "[in]advisability of having firearms at home".  Drs. Margulies and Young show how weak a study that Wintemute's position rests on really was.

Two Profiles in Hoplophobia 5/17/16: Dr. Wheeler exposes the prejudice and and fears that two prominent California physicians have built their careers on, Dr.s Deborah Prothrow-Stith and Garen Wintemute. 

Gun Violence Restraining Orders, Unrestrained 5/12/16: Building on Drs. Wheeler & Przebinda's testimony in Sacramento, Dr. Young revisits GVROs, as California's momentum toward even more infringement accelerates. 

Doctors Kill 23 Times More People Than Guns Kill! 5/10/16: The British Medical Journal, another anti-gun journal from an anti-gun country, similarly pushes anti-doctor hysteria.  Dr. Wheeler looks at both exaggerations, keeping in mind that firearms misuse, intentional or accidental, is far less damaging... 

Learn more at https://drgo.us