Guns, health and busybody doctors

By Charles Bloomer
web posted April 9, 2001

A group called Doctors Against Handgun Injury (DAHI) is recommending that doctors inquire about patients' handgun ownership. The rationale provided by DAHI is that doctors should advise their patients regarding the dangers of having a handgun in the household. DAHI is advocating what it calls "upstream intervention", providing ways to reduce risk if patients choose to keep handguns.

While it is obvious that we expect the medical profession to provide us with advice on how to stay healthy, is it reasonable to expect doctors to preach to us about how to avoid accidents? If so, then our visits to the doctor would be dominated by a laundry list of things to avoid. If the good doctors at DAHI are truly concerned about our avoiding accidents, why don't they expend some time and energy on causes of accidents that are far more numerous than those caused by handguns? Would it be reasonable to expect some sort of perspective that would relate handgun injury with other causes of injury?

Fatalities from firearms accidents are the lowest they have been since 1902. In fact, firearms accidents account for only 1,400 of the 90,000 accidental deaths each year in the United States.

Is there a group called Doctors Against Automobile Injury? Statistics just released by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveal that highway fatalities in 2000 amounted to 41,800. Motorcycle accidents accounted for 2,680 deaths and 58,000 injuries. During my next physical, should I expect my doctor to counsel me about the hazards of driving on America's highways? Will he tell me how to avoid risk if I decide to drive a motorcycle?

It is possible that DAHI is concerned with the possibility of injury to the children in households where firearms are present. Again, some perspective is called for. According to statistics for 1997 from the Center for Disease Control, among all causes of accidental deaths for children 14 and younger, gun accidents rank lowest at 142. First on CDC's list is drowning at 1,010, followed by automobile accidents at 2,608, pedestrian at 675, and bicycle at 201. By DAHI criteria, shouldn't my doctor be advising me about the dangers of having a swimming pool or bathtub? Or the dangers of taking my children in my car? Or the perils of letting my children ride their bicycles?

Are these doctors that are so concerned about handgun injury also concerned about injuries from assault or other violent crimes? Perhaps my doctor will inform me about the benefits of carrying a concealed weapon. He would, no doubt, be familiar with John Lott's book More Guns, Less Crime, wherein Dr. Lott definitively shows that states that allow citizens to carry concealed handguns have decreased rates of violent crime. In addition, he would explain that since handguns are used defensively more than a million times a year to prevent crimes, I could avoid serious injury or death by having access to my handgun and, in the vast majority of cases, not even have to fire it.

Doctors Against Handgun Injury are not nearly as concerned with injury as they are about handgun control. In addition to the invasive questions about handgun ownership, DAHI supports all the typical handgun control measures that have no bearing on safety or security. According to a report by the New York Observer, the group advocates background checks for purchasers at gun shows, limits on the number of handgun purchases by individuals, and a waiting period for all gun buyers. These positions show that DAHI has a political agenda totally unrelated to accident or injury prevention.

Among our society, doctors are generally held in high esteem. We trust doctors to give us intelligent, practical medical advice, whether to help cure our illnesses or to help prevent problems. That trust has been developed over the years because doctors have delivered that information. Doctors seem to genuinely care about the health and well-being of their patients. In general, our routine contact with our doctors is confined to legitimate medical concerns. We expect the best medical advice and treatment, devoid of politics or other biases.

Doctors who mix their politics with their medical advice risk losing their credibility and standing. We don't need busybody doctors to preach gun safety any more than we need doctors preaching safe driving or safe bathing. Gun ownership is not a health care issue.

Charles Bloomer is a senior writer at Enter Stage Right. He can be contacted at clbloomer@enterstageright.com. © 2001 Charles Bloomer

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