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Gun Questions: Free Speech or Intrusion?

A federal appeals court recently upheld a Florida law that limits what doctors can tell their patients about gun ownership.

Doctors claim that it’s their First Amendment right to ask any question they want of their patients including questions about guns. The backers of this law say keeping records on whether they have guns in their homes violates their Second Amendment rights.

WUSF'sCraigKoppspoke with a Jacksonville pediatrician and a firearms expert about whether doctors should talk to patients about guns.

In this excerpt from Florida Matters, JoeKrawtschenko, a manager and lead firearms instructor at Aegis Tactical in Lakewood Ranch, questions the way pediatricians collect information about children and their families.

Dr.MobeenH.Rathore, president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, explained how and why the questions and ensuing conversations are a matter of safety.

Craig Kopp:Last year, 17 kids were killed by guns in Florida. Joe, is there any way you can see to resolve this short of telling doctors how to practice?

Joe Krawtschenko: Just don’t answer their question. To me it’s simple, and this is like a waste of taxpayer’s money going through all this. If you don’t like your doctor, if he asks you if you have guns, you don’t want to answer and he doesn’t want to see you, you find a new doctor.

The doctor here is saying he’s keeping records to help treat his patients better. So you are keeping records if they have swimming pools, what car they have, if they have a lighter in the house, if they smoke, what kind of food they eat so they don’t choke. You keep records of all that. And that’s going to help you treat them better. I find that hard to believe.

Kopp:Dr. Rathore, do you keep all those kinds of records? Maybe you can give us an example. You mention swimming pools; you mention poisons and storage of poisons. What other kinds of questions does a pediatrician regularly ask of your patients?

Dr. Mobeen H. Rathore: We ask them you know, if when they are in their cars, do they wear seatbelts? We don’t need to know what sort of kind of car they drive, but we do need to advise them they need to wear seatbelts if they are driving. We also need to advise the families about car seats, and how to appropriately put the car seats in and where the child should be in the car. We also need to advise them about helmets, using helmets when using bicycles or skateboarding. I mean there are so many things we have to talk over.

Kopp:Doctor, Are you keeping records of that?

Rathore: We will definitely say we discuss the car seat issue, and that the family did have a car seat. We advise them how car seats should be used.  We also keep records if they are smoking in the house and how we would advise them that exposure to smoke for children is dangerous for children’s health. So we would advise them if they are not using helmets. We would ask them about that.

Krawtschenko:So do you have a little check off list that you are using? Do they have a bicycle, are they wearing a helmet, do they have a swimming pool, do they have a cage around it… Do they have a firearm? Did you tell them to keep it locked up?

Kopp: I am smelling here an information gap between one side and the other. So when a pediatrician does this, I suspect it’s a kind of check list, right…and it’s kept in a patient’s record…  

Rathore: Yes, so the anticipatory guidance would be very age-dependent. When you have a child who is about starting to crawl, before they actually start to crawl, we have to talk to the parents about how they are securing the electrical outlets.

As the child starts to walk, we have to make sure we talk to them about when they are boiling water on the stove, how it needs to be kept safely. So it’s not necessarily a checklist, but it’s at each age-appropriate stage of the child’s growth. We ask appropriate questions so we can provide anticipatory guidance.

Now Craig, the main issue here is this is something that all doctors, all people in this country should be very concerned about, this ruling and the loss of the First Amendment protection to speak to patients about issues that impact their health and safety.

And all patients in this country should also be concerned with this ruling because this will interfere with the doctor’s ability to provide good, sound medicine and medical advice to our patients. And I think we don’t want to be in a situation where we are not able to provide that information and advice to our patients and families.

To hear more of the conversation about whether doctors should talk to their patients about gun ownership visit Florida Mattersat WUSF.org.

Copyright 2014 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

I started my journalism career delivering the Toledo Blade newspaper on my bike.
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