Doctors' Group Wants to Mix Medicine, Gun Warnings

The next time you get a checkup, the doctor might be checking your holster along with your temperature, and some in the medical community say that's just not right.

Doctors Against Handgun Injury, a coalition of 13 medical organizations, is encouraging physicians to start treating handgun deaths as a disease. It is urging doctors to ask their patients if they have a gun every time they give a physical examination. If the patient says yes, the doctor is then supposed to tell them about the risks associated with handguns.

"Firearm death and injury is a medical policy issue," insisted Dr. Jeremiah Barondess, head of DAHI. "We are going to develop a reasoned, rational, careful, medicalized program to reduce unnecessary death from handguns."

But Dr. Tim Wheeler, of the Claremont Institute’s Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, says the gun issue belongs in the Bill of Rights, not Gray’s Anatomy.

"We don't believe that firearms are a public health issue," Wheeler said. "Doctors Against Handgun Injury advises doctors to commit ethical boundary violations by misusing the doctor-patient relationship to advance a political agenda against gun owners."

Wheeler believes that DAHI ultimately wants to take away peoples' right to bear arms. If doctors are concerned about gun deaths and injuries, he says, they should support tougher handling of criminals — not try to manage the lives of law-abiding citizens.

"Violent crime is the work of a very tiny percentage of our population," he said. "A very highly abnormal group of people. It is that small subset of the population that we need to focus our energy on. Not the general American gun owner."

Guns are the second-leading cause of injury/deaths in the country and the eighth-leading cause of death overall, DAHI says. And with an average of 80 deaths each day in America, handguns are as much a medical issue as heart disease or cancer, Barondess maintains.

The group acknowledges that homicides by gun have gone down significantly in the last decade, but notes that many handgun deaths are accidental. And in cases of potential suicide, whether a patient has a gun dovetails into mental-health issues like depression.

"If a person who has the potential to injure him or herself and other people gets a gun that is in a certain sense a prevention issue," Barondess said.

But the physician-patient questions now being advocated by DAHI goes beyond prevention and into propaganda, Wheeler said.

"Patients trust doctors to do what is right for them," he said. "When the doctor is driven by an ulterior motive such as trying to turn kids and their parents against gun ownership, she is committing an unethical act deserving of disciplinary action."