When the 11th Circuit re-instated the Florida gag law on physicians talking to patients about guns I knew that sooner or later we would hear from Timothy Wheeler and his gun-promoting group which believes that 19,000 gun suicides, 11,000 gun homicides and 50,000 (or more) intentional gun injuries each year shouldn’t concern physicians at all. Wheeler is the doctor who began promoting the idea that doctors who inquire about gun ownership are their patients’ worst enemies, and his organization is rolled out by the pro-gun lobby whenever they need additional ammunition to keep America from adopting a common-sense approach to the issue of gun violence.
Wheeler’s organization, for which his claim of having thousands of members has never been verified in any way whatsoever, has just launched a small campaign to support the Florida gag law, at the same time that a coalition of medical associations and advocacy groups are going back to the 11th Circuit to ask the entire court, en banc, to overturn the recent ruling. Which is exactly why Wheeler and his buddies in the gun-blogging community are trying to tilt public opinion the other way.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should state that I am married to an attending pediatrician, and am also a member and certified gun trainer for the NRA. I have no issue with private ownership of guns but I take personally these indecorous attacks on physicians who are required to speak with patients about any matter which they feel might pose a medical risk, particularly involving something as potentially lethal as a gun. The shabby attempt by physicians like Wheeler to pretend that guns do not constitute a health risk reminds me of the pathetic charades conducted back in the 1950’s by a few physicians and scientists who publicly disavowed any link between smoking and cancer.
Of course Wheeler and his cronies, in this case a psychiatrist named Robert Young, don’t want their audience to believe that they are against safe use and storage of guns. After all, everyone’s in favor of safe gun use these days, just ask the NRA and they’ll tout their gun safety program, aka Eddie Eagle which has “reached more than 26 million children in all 50 states.” The same website that contains this information about Eddie Eagle also states that the NRA is “not affiliated with any firearm or ammunition manufacturers,” which is, simply put, a lie. But Dr. Young seems oblivious to the requirement in his own medical profession to base clinical decisions and strategies on evidence-based information, since he advises his medical colleagues to use the Eddie Eagle handouts in contacts with patients who might or might not own guns.
I saved the best part for last. Although Dr. Young believes in educating children in safe behavior around guns, he also wants to make sure that the safety of children is balanced out by the requirements for self defense. And I quote: “Even the sound practice of storing guns and ammunition in separate, locked places isn’t always right if they are intended to be used for emergency protection.”
This guy’s a physician? This guy took the Hippocratic Oath which requires him to counsel patients about risks to their health? There is not one single piece of credible research which shows that keeping a loaded, unlocked gun around the house creates protection from crime that outweighs the risks of injury or death from the existence of that gun.
People like Robert Young and Timothy Wheeler find media outlets for their destructive ideas because we really are committed to the idea of hearing “both sides” in the public policy debate. But I don’t think that there are two sides when it comes to discussing a health issue which claims 80,000 or more victims each year. Unless, of course, you’d rather believe that mortality and morbidity at those levels has nothing to do with health at all.