Written by Avni Bhalakia, MD
When it comes to injury prevention for children, pediatricians are at the forefront of this issue. On a daily basis, we counsel and educate patients and families regarding the use of car seats and seat belts to prevent injury and death from motor vehicle accidents, the use of bike helmets to prevent head injuries in case of falls, and safe sleeping positions to reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Pediatricians counsel patients and families on these protective measures to keep our kids safe and, for the most part, our society has accepted these interventions for the safety of our children.
Despite widespread agreement and acceptance that we can and should prevent accidental and unintentional deaths among children, there is fierce disagreement about approaching firearms in the same way. In July 2014, the Florida 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decided to uphold the “physician gag law,” which prevents all physicians from even asking about firearms in the home.
Many physician groups, including the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) and NPA (National Physicians Alliance), disagree with this ruling and find it to be a violation of the physician’s free speech to counsel and educate families on injury prevention. It is within our professional responsibility to ask families about potential dangers in the home. This includes asking about, among safe storage of cleaning supplies as potential poisons and smokers in the home, whether or not there are firearms in the home and how they are stored. It is obvious that accessible firearms can lead to unintentional injuries or death among children. Research has shown that with counseling and education, families will take steps to ensure safe storage of firearms in the home.
As a Pediatrician, mother and citizen, I cannot comprehend why we wouldn’t do more to keep our kids safe from unnecessary and unintentional death. We need to allow physicians to do their job completely, and allow them to provide appropriate counseling and education regarding all aspects of safety and health of our children. Restricting a physician’s ability to educate and counsel on a health issue is obstruction to care and is not in line with our society’s acceptance of other injury prevention efforts.
To find information, helpful resources, and action opportunities related to gun violence prevention, please visit http://npalliance.org/gun-violence-prevention.