Gun Grabbing Doctors

Gun Grabbing Doctors:  An Old Public Health Threat Re-emerges

One might think that, like smallpox, the threat of public health gun control advocacy had been eradicated.  After all, courageous behavioral scientists battled the scourge in the 1990s, using reasoned scientific arguments and solid data to show that gun owners are not a threat to the American polity, as the medical gun grabbers had long been trying to convince us.  Public opinion came around, causing the federal “assault weapon” ban to sunset and numerous state laws to be passed, securing gun owners’ rights.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s Heller and McDonald decisions of 2008 and 2010, respectively, only buttressed the transformation in public opinion that now strongly affirms the individual right to own firearms for self defense.

But as the nation tends toward more freedom for gun owners, the public health anti-gun rights community has apparently decided to push back.  A recent article in the American Journal of Public Health is a protest against Florida’s new law regulating doctors’ questioning of patients about guns in their homes.  Its title, “Attempts to Silence Firearm Injury Prevention” is a ridiculous attempt to convince us that Floridians prefer to remain ignorant of gun safety.  But the real reason for the law is the doctors’ own misguided meddling.

The Florida law was passed in response to the overly aggressive “anticipatory guidance” of a pediatrician in Ocala.  By carrying legitimate medical questioning too far with questions about a young family’s guns, this doctor stepped over the line from sound medical practice to political advocacy.  Encountering resistance from the mother, who vigorously objected to his meddling, the doctor promptly fired her and her children from his practice.

The doctor was admittedly within his rights to refuse treatment to this family, but news of the event didn’t sit well with Floridians.  The Florida legislature responded with the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act.  The law is being litigated and has become a battle front for the new public health assault on gun rights.

Let’s review some of the flaws in the American Journal of Public Health article.  These tactics are nothing new, being drawn from an old playbook of public health anti-gun advocacy:

1)      The authors cite Arthur Kellermann’s error-ridden 1993 New England Journal of Medicine article claiming that a gun in the home increases the risk of homicide.  This study, thoroughly debunked years ago by researchers Don Kates, et. al., and Dave Kopel, used the wrong research tool (case control studies) to study unrepresentative gun owners (high crime inner city populations) to reach an invalid conclusion.  Kellermann’s work is generally discounted by all scholars except the small community of anti-gun rights advocacy researchers.

2)      The authors complain about the statutory prohibition on using federal funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to pay for “research related to guns that may be used to influence members of Congress.”  But they fail to inform their readers that Congress instituted this ban to rein in the CDC’s audacious funding of gun control advocacy in the 1990s.

3)      The authors manage to blame the ban on CDC-funded gun control advocacy for racial disparities, citing twice as many firearm injury deaths among blacks as among whites.  But they don’t write a word about the real causes of the disparity, such as culture or lack of parental instruction about firearms.

4)      They ignore tactical considerations in home firearms storage, approving of standard medical guidelines advocating storage of guns unloaded, with trigger locks and in locked cabinets.  Trigger locks violate Rule 3 of safe firearm handling: keep your finger (or other objects) off the trigger until you have made the decision to shoot.

5)      The authors ignore the complete lack of firearm safety training in medical school and residency.  Why would the average patient trust a doctor to know anything about gun safety?

6)      The authors refuse to recognize firearm safety advice from the known firearm safety experts such as the National Rifle Association or its state affiliate organizations.

Elsewhere, officials in Oak Park, Illinois believe they have found a way to restrict gun rights after the Heller and McDonald Supreme Court rulings.  Other Chicago suburbs repealed their handgun bans after the Supreme Court made their laws likely to fall to litigation.  According to a local news report, their city government mandates responsibility to protect the public from injury—all they need to keep their citizens from owning guns.  Why are the Oak Park city fathers pursuing gun control when guns are way down on the list of causes of accidental injury and death?  Their motivation springs from a darker pathology than garden variety nannyism.  They want to destroy the right of self defense, the most natural right of all.

We have all been here before.  Public health promotion of “gun safety” instruction and anti-gun research were exposed long ago as slick covers for gun control advocacy.  These new offerings are more of the same.

But on the other side of the political divide, much has advanced since the heyday of the public health gun grabbers.  A Gallup poll last month shows record low support for banning handguns.  All the states but Illinois now allow discreet carry of firearms for personal protection.  After a long era of academic neglect of the Second Amendment, legal scholars and historians have elucidated its intent—the unmistakable individual right to own a firearm.  And based largely on that history, federal appeals courts and the U.S. Supreme Court have affirmed that individual right and further cemented its union with the right of self defense.

It’s hard to imagine how the public health gun control activists will be able to surmount all of that.

—Timothy Wheeler, MD is Director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership