Written by Jerry Walden, MD, a family physician and co-founder of the Michigan based Physicians for the Prevention of Gun Violence, and a member of the NPA Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce.
For several years the Brady Campaign and the American Academy of Pediatrics has led us in the ASK Campaign in June. ASK is the acronym- Asking Saves Kids- and one question- is there an unlocked gun where my child plays? Brady estimates there are about 1 home in 3 with children have a gun and 1.7 million children in homes with loaded, unlocked guns. This leads to thousands of accidental injuries and deaths.
My pediatric colleagues add an initiating question, “Where do our kids play when they come to your house?” This helps to go to the question “Are there guns in the home?” and then the question “Are they unlocked or stored safely?” “Where are they kept?” “Can the kids go into that room?”
These questions have somehow provoked attempts across the country to “gag the doctors” and make it illegal to ask about guns (see Gun Laws, Gag Laws & Domestic Violence). Most of us physicians love and value this privilege of asking personal questions in a respectful way. It’s our privilege, really our right and responsibility, to shine light on personal problems that may help our patients. So I am angry with those who would interfere with our doctor-patient relationship and demand, even outlaw this responsibility to seek the best health for our patients. These legislators do not represent good medicine and for the most part are not doctors. And these interactions about guns like our questions about auto safety, drug use, depression and suicide risk, etc. are arguably the most important thing we do- they can save lives. In primary care they may save more lives than antibiotic prescriptions.
Gun questions are now usually part of a standardized health history. But, in Michigan, our legislature recently passed a law making it illegal to use the Freedom of Information Act to find out whether a neighbor has a registered gun! So a personal question is what can we physicians do to protect our patients and ourselves from becoming victims of gun lobby control? Our Physicians for the Prevention of Gun Violence is on the cutting edge of that question. Recently seven national medical societies added their voices. National Physicians Alliance is another strong voice with 10 fellows in Gun Violence medicine. I am a member of their Gun Violence Task Force begun this year. (View or join.)
We are becoming organized and vocal in our effort to keep our profession whole with the right to ask any reasonable question and act on the answer.
Learn more about Gun Violence Awareness Month
Find useful resources and view NPA’s recent Gun Violence & Public Health webinar:
Nothing More Basic: Best Practices to Promote Safe Gun Storage (recorded April 2015)