Should Doctors Ask About Guns? Well There’s an Odd Question

Gun and ConstitutionReuters published an article on Monday, July 25, 2015, by Lisa Rapaport, entitled: Two-thirds of Americans OK if doctors ask about guns.  When I first read the headline I seriously thought this must be a joke of some kind.  I couldn’t resist finding out what the gag was, so I read the article.  No joke, it was about a serious nationwide study.  Apparently someone actually went around asking folks how they felt about having a doctor ask them about guns in the home, and the like.

The article says, “While just 23 percent of people surveyed thought it was always OK for doctors to ask about guns, another 14 percent said this was usually appropriate and an additional 30 percent considered it reasonable in some situations.”  When I read this, I guess I agreed with this last 30 percent if the patient they are talking to just happens to have a bullet sized hole in their body, but other than that – I just didn’t get it.

Ms Rapaport goes on to say, “In 2014, there were more than 33,000 gun deaths in the U.S., most of which were suicides, and an additional estimated 81,000 non-fatal firearm injuries, researchers note in the Annals of Internal Medicine.”  This made me wonder how significant those numbers really are, so I did a little digging.  I’m not sure where Ms Rapaport gets her numbers.  All the estimates of U.S. gun violence I could find indicate that around 12,000 people died and about 24,000 people were injured with guns in 2015, which was considered to be an exceptionally violent year for weapons.  It could be that the 12K/24K numbers don’t include suicides, but if that’s the case, it would seem to show that a whole lot of folks try to use guns for suicide, but fail.  Yikes!

Regardless of how accurate her numbers are, it’s a lot of people.  If we compare gun fatalities to traffic fatalities we see that there are about three times as many traffic fatalities as there are gun fatalities (we’ll use the 12K number as a fair comparison, since cars are rarely used in cases of suicide).  Still, I have to admit, it is a significant number – enough so that it might warrant a genuinely concerned doctor or friend asking about it.

In the end it seems like an odd question to me, but I wouldn’t want my doctor to avoid asking me about guns if, in fact, she was inclined to ask about my driving record and training, or smoking, or any other risk she deemed notable.  Guns are such a touchy subject these days, but honestly, ask away – I have nothing to hide with respect to how I protect my home and family.

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