Across the country, state lawmakers are proposing bills that pit politics against patient care—and healthcare providers are caught in the middle. Medical “gag laws” dictate what doctors can and cannot say to patients about a host of important public health issues, including gun safety. At the Law Center, we’re committed to ensuring Americans know the urgent threat that gun violence poses to public health, which is why we’re excited to collaborate with other members of the Coalition to Protect the Patient-Provider Relationship on a new report detailing the hazardous impact of gag laws.
Politics in the Exam Room: A Growing Threat examines state laws that dictate what doctors can and cannot say to patients about treatment and safety when it comes to a host of health issues, like toxic chemical exposure from fracking, women’s reproductive health, and gun safety. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is proud to join the National Partnership for Women & Families, National Physicians Alliance (NPA), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in examining these measures.
We know gun violence is a public health epidemic—data from the Centers for Disease Control shows there were an astonishing 117,621 incidents of gun violence in 2013, which means 322 people are shot per day in the United States.
In light of this fact, we know medical professionals are poised to speak with authority when it comes to ensuring safety around guns. One study reports that 64% of people who received advice from their doctors on safely storing firearms improved their gun safety practices, such as using trigger locks and gun safes to prevent unintentional shootings, suicide, and gun theft.
Florida, home to some of the weakest gun laws in the country, enacted the most restrictive gun-related medical gag law in 2011. It subjects healthcare providers, including pediatricians, to severe disciplinary action for inquiring about whether a patient owns a gun and if it is secured and out of reach of children. A number of other states have tried (and failed, thanks to efforts by the Law Center and other gun safety advocates) to implement similar measures, and more states are expected to propose similar legislation in 2016.
The report strongly urges lawmakers to reject or repeal any legislation that interferes with the patient-provider relationship or forces healthcare providers to violate accepted, evidence-based medical practices for political reasons. Our attorneys are committed to defending the lifesaving conversations born from trusting patient-provider relationships, and we respect the Hippocratic Oath that doctors have sworn for centuries—“First, do no harm.”
To learn more about the risks medical gag laws impose on the patient-provider relationship, read the full report: Politics in the Exam Room: A Growing Threat.
To learn more specifics about a public health approach to solving gun violence: Gun Safety and Public Health.