Can a physician make his office a gun-free zone? That may seem like a question with an obvious answer but it’s not. And the answer isn’t obvious because of a pending bill that would extend concealed-carry privileges on a reciprocal basis to all 50 states. And the bill doesn’t carry an opt-out provision at the state level. In other words, if I can carry a concealed weapon in my state of residence, I can basically carry it anywhere in the United States, even if the requirements for getting a concealed-carry license are different in my home state than in the state where I happen to be.
I was drawn to this issue today because of an article published by a physician in who found herself confronted in her practice by a patient carrying a gun. Actually, he was carrying two handguns, both loaded, which he took off in order to be given an EKG. And the existence of the guns didn’t particularly concern Dr. Becher per se, because she practices in West Virginia where, as she put it, everyone including herself owns guns. But she just didn’t feel comfortable around this guy and her discomfort became intense when he made a threatening remark about a subspecialist to whom Dr. Becher had referred him the previous week.
She then learned from contacting law enforcement that she could not prevent him from coming into her practice until and unless he was told to his face that he could show up with guns, even if there was a sign on the office door stating that the office was a gun-free zone. She could send him a letter dismissing him as a patient but this still could not prevent him from simply walking through the front door.
The national concealed-carry reciprocity bill, which now has almost enough sponsors to guarantee that it will pass a House vote, actually makes Dr. Becher’s situation a national policy if it becomes law. Because the bill says that it does not ‘supersede or restrict’ any private property owner from denying access to their property by anyone carrying a gun. But notice that in West Virginia the state law still requires a property-owner to confront the armed citizen face-to-face in order to maintain the property as a gun-free zone.
Now believe it or not, there actually are a few deranged individuals claiming to be physicians who believe that Dr. Becher and all physicians will be safer and more secure if they allow anyone and everyone to enter their practice carrying guns. In fact, these fools actually take the position that physicians should encourage their patients to carry guns. I am referring, of course, to the pathetic bunch known as Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership (DRGO) who have been parroting the NRA attacks against medicine since the AAP and other medical groups had the temerity, the unmitigated audacity to state the obvious, namely, that guns represent a health risk? How in God’s name could a quarter-ounce piece of lead that hits soft tissue faster than the speed of sound be a threat to good health? And yet on the same day that Dr. Becher raised her concerns about how to deal with the threatening patient carrying two weapons, an online medical blog that caters to a right-wing readership published a DRGO screed calling for doctors to avoid any discussion with patients about guns.
There are two problems here that need to be addressed. First is the fact that physicians cannot act alone when it comes to protecting themselves and their patients from gun violence – they need help from law enforcement, from the public, and most of all, from reasonable and responsible politicians who draft and enact laws. Second is the fact that the sponsors of the national CCW-reciprocity bill aren’t behaving responsibly at all. They may believe they are making it easier for citizens to protect themselves, but what they are really doing is creating risk. Which has to stop – now.