There’s a tension between pediatricians and gun owners, a tension that seems unlikely on the surface. After all, what do doctors specializing and child patients have to do with the Second Amendment? It just doesn’t make any sense.
However, that tension exists, in part because many pediatricians believe it’s their place to ask if homes contain a firearm.
Not all, though. Some pediatricians don’t ask, and at least one researcher wanted to know why.
“Pediatricians are comfortable talking about seat belts and poisons and stuff because we all, just through living, have exposure to those things,” Garen Wintemute, an emergency room doctor and public health researcher at the University of California, Davis, told Newsweek. Other less widespread risks, like smoking, are discussed extensively in medical schools. “Firearms are different; firearms aren’t an unmitigated hazard like smoking, and firearms have legitimate uses.”
According to lead researcher Sheryl Yanger, an emergency pediatrician at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the trouble comes from how heated the issues of gun ownership and gun control have become. “I think there’s a politically charged nature to it and people get offended,” she Yanger. “There’s just a lot of emotions to thinking about gun ownership.” That means it’s sometimes easier not to talk about the issue at all.
In fact, she was inspired to look into approaches to gun safety after seeing a report on Texas injuries that didn’t mention firearms—when she knew from her time in emergency rooms that such injuries were prevalent. According to data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, 33,594 Americans were killed with guns and the next year 84,997 people were non-fatally injured by a firearm.
So Yanger decided to survey members of a group of pediatric emergency doctors, asking them about their political beliefs, their own gun ownership, how they handle the topic when talking to patients, and any obstacles they face doing so. “This information is pretty generalizable, even though it’s a skewed population,” Yanger said, noting that most of the respondents work in urban hospitals affiliated with universities.
According to the survey results, pediatricians are more likely to talk to their patients about gun safety if they believe it will make injuries less common, if they feel confident providing information, and if they feel like it’s their responsibility to do so. On the other hand, reported obstacles included political concerns, worries that talking about guns wasn’t legal, and not having the information to do so.
As a result, Yanger believes that giving doctors information on what to tell parents with guns and informing them of relevant laws will somehow make everything better.
Alright, let me explain this from the other side of this situation. I’m going to explain this as a parent and gun owner.
If a pediatrician walks in and asks if I have any guns, my initial response is that it’s not of his or her business. Yes, guns may have the potential to cause harm, but so does bleach, yet I’m not being asked if there’s bleach in my home. Drain cleaner is deadly as well, but I’m not being asked about that either.
Instead, I’m being asked about guns, something that is not only a politically charged topic but grounds for many people to judge you as unbalanced. In other words, we gun owners catch a lot of crap as it is, we don’t need it from someone we’re paying for a service that has nothing to do with firearms.
I have no issue with a doctor saying, “Make sure you keep your household chemicals out of reach, make sure any firearms you have are locked up or out of reach, etc.” That’s simply a doctor passing along a reminder of safety measures I should undertake.
I’m not being asked to divulge whether there’s a gun in my house or not. I’m simply being offered a reminder to not be stupid about where I leave my firearms.
What I’m also not asked to divulge are the sizes of my television sets and how they’re secured, if we have any large bookcases that can fall on our child and crush them, or if we have any old appliances that may trap a child if they went inside.
Look, I get that doctors don’t want to see kids coming in with bullet wounds. I really do get that.
What I want them to get is that every gun owner resents being looked at like an incompetent moron simply because we have a firearm and a kid.