I don’t often disagree with Carroll, but I think I might here. Not about Florida’s law: that really is ridiculous. The state may have an interest in making sure doctors don’t give demonstrably bad advice, but it certainly doesn’t have a legitimate interest in preventing them from asking simple, fact-oriented question. This represents prior restraint on non-commercial speech, and as such it’s beyond the pale.
That said, should physicians ask about gun ownership? I’m not so sure. Carroll says he only wants to discuss “health risks,” and that’s appropriate. Doctors have expertise in the area of human health: that is, the biology and physiology of the human body. But that’s not the same thing as the safety of the human body.
Not only do doctors have no special professional expertise in this area, but it’s simply too wide open. Does your car have air bags? Do you ever jaywalk? Have you checked your electrical outlets lately? Is your house built to withstand an earthquake? Do you know how to work safely on your roof? Do you make sure to watch your kids in the pool? Are you planning any trips to eastern Ukraine?
I replied by email, which he posted to his blog (with permission!):
I think you ask legitimate questions, but these are consensus things that pediatricians ask about. You’re thinking like an adult, and not as a parent.
I don’t know if internists ask adults about guns. I doubt they do. But pediatricians do ask parents. They also ask if parents have talked about street safety. They ask if they keep chemicals out of reach of their children. They ask if they’ve checked the temperature of the hot water heater. They ask about water safety, bathtubs, and talk about drowning. Fire safety. Bike safety. Car safety (including airbags). I could go on and on and on.
This is what pediatricians do. You may be too far removed from that to remember, but it is! Read Bright Futures. It’s hundreds of pages long.
Pediatricians like to say that kids are NOT little adults. I think it’s also safe to say that pediatricians are NOT little adult doctors. Your doctors likely don’t feel the need to warn you about the many dangers you face in everyday life, but parents often need to be reminded that their kids don’t know better. We talk about lots of things you might not talk about with your adult doctor.