Doctors, Guns, & Medical Gag Laws

Written by NPA President Cheryl Bettigole, MD, MPH.
On a recent NPA webinar entitled “Doctors, Guns, & Medical Gag Laws,” attorney Laura Cutilletta of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence walked participants through the recent history of state-based legislative efforts to restrict clinical free speech regarding gun safety.
Since 2011, many states have passed or attempted to pass legislation that would make it illegal for physicians to ask patients about gun ownership or gun storage — this despite a strong and clear recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics on the importance of such discussions for families with children.

Cutilletta shared some important research findings:

  • Deaths due to accidental shootings are three times more common in homes with guns
  • 89% of accidental gun deaths among children occur in their own homes
  • In a chilling statistic from 2006, 73% of children under age ten reported knowing the location of their parents’ firearms, and 36% admitted they had handled the weapons.
  • Homes in which a suicide occurred are 4.8 times more likely to contact a gun than similarly situated homes in the same neighborhood without a suicide
  • Physicians’ counseling on safe gun storage makes a difference; one study showed a 64% improvement in safe storage after counseling by a family physician

The presentation also covered the history of the law passed in Florida that would have made it illegal for physicians to ask about gun ownership, with penalties including permanent license revocation and a $10,000 fine for each “offense.”  Although a court injunction has stopped the Florida law from going into effect, nine other states have attempted to pass similar laws and two states, Montana and Minnesota, have enacted less draconian forms of related legislation.
As we work to address the public health problem of gun violence, it is important that we not be hamstrung by misguided legislative efforts that infringe upon both our free speech rights and the physician patient relationship.  The NPA is actively working with partners in both the medical and advocacy community to stop these infringements and to keep our members informed.  We deeply appreciate your commitment to your patients and to this issue.

View the webinar slides here.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact Becky Martin: