Should doctors counsel patients on gun safety?
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey believes they should. In fact, this week Healey partnered with the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) to develop materials that doctors could use to talk gun safety with their patients.
“Most medical professionals believe that they can have an important role in preventing gun-related injury and death, and yet screening and counseling about guns remain uncommon,” AG Healey said.
“While the vast majority of gun owners are responsible and deeply committed to gun safety, this remains a public health issue, and conversations between patients and health care providers are critically important to preventing gun-related injury and death,” said Healey.
The materials consist of brochures and a voluntary online training program. Topics covered in the online program include gun-licensing laws and reporting obligations, guidance on patient privacy, how to approach certain conversations, and clinical scenarios to consider, according to the press release.
Topics covered in the pamphlets include making guns less accessible to children and anyone with a behavioral health condition, disposing of an unwanted gun, and advice on what to do when a gun owner is at risk of violence, suicide, or accidental injury, according to the press release.
“We are pleased to partner with the Massachusetts Medical Society in developing these materials for health care providers, who are uniquely situated to engage their patients about keeping themselves and their families safe,” said Healey.
Massachusetts Medical Society President James S. Gessner, M.D. also praised the initiative.
“Gun violence is a major public health threat and physicians can play a key role in curbing the violence by educating patients about the risks of gun ownership and encouraging our colleagues to talk to their patients,” said Gressner.
“We are honored to work with the Attorney General and law enforcement officials in efforts to make gun ownership safer and reduce deaths and injuries attributable to guns,” he said.
At first blush, this seems like a nice idea. Why not have medical professionals talk gun safety with their patients?
But that presupposes that doctors know more about guns and gun safety than their law-abiding and responsible patients who own them, regularly shoot them, hunt with them and/or carry them for self-defense. Put another way, how is a non-gun owner — doctor or no doctor — going to tell me something about gun safety or storage that I don’t already know or haven’t thought deeply about?
It’s like saying that I would be perfectly suited to counsel my proctologist on lifestyle choices and treatments to alleviate hemorrhoids after reading a pamphlet and watching an educational video. I may have a cursory understanding of the matter after being exposed to the educational material, but let’s not forget who the expert is, who has years of experience in that domain, who truly knows the ins and outs of the subject.
As Healey herself freely admits, the “vast majority of gun owners are responsible and deeply committed to gun safety.” Right. We are. So, we don’t need to be “screened” for firearms (is that like a cancer screening or something?) nor do we need to be educated on the “risks of gun ownership.” We’re keenly aware of what it means for ourselves and our families to keep loaded firearms in the home and on our persons.
By virtue of this fact and by Healey’s own admission, it appears that the target of this joint initiative is the small fraction of individuals with guns who are too stupid, too lazy or too mentally unstable to realize that firearms are lethal weapons and should be treated accordingly.
Now let’s think about who really makes up this small fraction of individuals. We are, of course, talking about minors, felons, drug addicts, mental defectives, those with chronic suicidal ideations, you know, all the people who cannot lawfully possess firearms in the first place. Yes, those are the people who are responsible for the overwhelming number of shootings, gun deaths, and gun suicides.
The question that Healey needs to ask herself is whether this effort will actually reach those people (How frequently do criminals and drug dealers visit the doctor’s office?) Moreover, will it have any effect on their behavior (How receptive are criminals and drug dealers to a physician’s advice)?
My take is that, like most nanny-state initiatives, this is nothing more than a feel-good program that may sound good to some on paper but will have no real world impact. What it will do, however, is allow Healey to add to her growing list of misguided actions ostensibly designed to reduce gun-related violence. There’s no doubt that she has political ambitions that reach beyond the office of attorney general. And over the past year or so, she’s been padding her resume by targeting law-abiding gun owners: