Pediatricians are just trying to stop kids from dying

The number one cause of death in children is accidents. More kids die of unintentional injuries than any disease.

In kids age 10-14, the number three killer is suidice. The number four is homicide.

If you look at kids 15-19, the number two killer is homicide. The number three is suicide.

It’s not obesity, it’s not heart disease, it’s not diabetes. Kids are killed by accidents, by homicide, and by suicide. That’s why pediatricians ask about guns. But not in Florida:

There’s one customary question, though, that I’m no longer allowed to ask. In June, Gov. Rick Scott signed a law barring Florida doctors from routinely asking patients if they own a gun. The law also authorizes patients to report doctors for “unnecessarily harassing” them about gun ownership and makes it illegal to routinely document firearm ownership information in a patient’s medical record. Other state legislatures have considered similar proposals, but Florida is the first to enact such a law…

The measure was introduced in the state Legislature after a pediatrician in Central Florida dismissed a mother from his practice when she angrily refused to answer a routine question about whether she kept a gun in her house. The doctor, Chris Okonkwo, said at the time that he asked so he could offer appropriate safety advice, just as he customarily asks parents if they have a swimming pool and teenagers if they use their cellphones when they drive. He said that he dismissed the mother because he felt they could not establish a trusting doctor-patient relationship.

Advocates of gun rights argue that routine questions about firearms violate their privacy, make them vulnerable to discrimination by insurance companies and the government, and “offend common decency,” as Marion Hammer, a former president of the National Rifle Association who lobbied for passage of the bill, put it in letters to N.R.A. members. Ms. Hammer said that gun-owning parents had complained to her for many years about pediatricians’ inquiries, which she believes are ineffective at preventing gun injuries.

She contends that such inquiries are part of a political antigun agenda by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“You don’t go to a doctor to be interrogated or intimidated,” she said. “There’s a clear line between violating privacy rights and imparting safety information.”

I ask parents regularly if they have a gun in the home. If they tell me they do, I ask how it’s stored. I recommend that they think about not having a gun around children. If they must, I recommend that they keep it unloaded, locked up, with the bullets stored separately.

Why? Because in 2005, guns were were in involved in almost 85% of homicides and more than 45% of suicides in children aged 5-19 years, not to mention many accidents. I ask about guns because they are a major mechanism of childhood death. I’m trying to prevent that from happening.

I’m not judging my patients or harassing them, any more than when I ask them whether they use bike helmets, or whether they use car seats, or whether they let their kids cross the street unaccompanied by an adult. I’m trying to keep them from getting killed. That’s my job.

The Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Physicians are contesting the law. I’ll be following the case with interest

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