Do you own a gun?

Physicians Angelica Zen and Alice Kuo have written an opinion piece for The Washington Post, titled, “Do you own a gun? Why your kid’s doctor needs to know,” wherein they discuss the risks of having guns unsecured in a home with children and the need for doctors to talk about the subject. This came to widespread attention when Florida passed a law barring doctors from asking their patients whether they have guns in their homes.

The problem here isn’t with my doctor bringing up guns.  Of course, I make a public point of advocating for gun rights and ownership, so my concerns aren’t the only possible ones or the ones that everyone will share.  Some people don’t want to discuss the fact that they own guns with strangers, and that’s a decision they have the right to.  Another question worth considering is the shortening time patients and doctors have with each other in appointments these days.  I’ve spent longer standing in line at the local BoxMart than I have in some checkups, so the matter of priorities has to be considered.

And the authors raise the number of children who shoot or get shot either through accident or negligence.  Here they do a bit of fudging, since they they say that unintentional injury is a leading cause of death for children between ages one and fourteen, though they admit that this covers all such deaths, including “car accidents, suffocation, burns, drowning and gunshot wounds.”  What they delay mentioning is that the number of accidental deaths due to gunfire in a given year is around 600, of which fewer than half are under the age of twenty-five.  Down the page a couple of paragraphs, they do cite Everytown for Gun Safety’s compilation of child shootings in 2015—their total is 278.  This is not something to ignore, but in a country with some 100,000,000 gun owners, addressing childhood obesity, for example, sounds like a better usage of time.

And then there’s the question of privacy in medical records.  What goes into those documents?  Basically, anything discussed during the appointment.  Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), all of this is supposed to be private, but this presumes that the records are secure.  As an incident last year illustrated, such faith isn’t warranted.  According to Dr. James Anderson, president of UCLA’s Hospital System, medical records face millions of attacks by hackers each year—at UCLA alone.  Potentially 4.5 million of those records were stolen in a penetration of the system’s computers in 2015.  This would be shocking if it weren’t something we keep hearing about again and again.

If that’s not bad enough, consider the government’s access to these records.  Under current law, particularly with the PATRIOT Act, all law enforcement has to do is assert that any of us is a suspect or a victim to have a look at our data.

While Zen and Kuo are doctors and are concerned primarily with medical matters, they are also participants in society as human beings, and as such, they should recognize that health isn’t the only subject of importance.  Until they can assure me that questions about my guns will remain between my doctor and me, I can understand why others wouldn’t want to be asked.  If I am asked, that will take time out of the appointment for me to explain the problems involved.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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