Debate Focuses on Just What Doctors Should Do About Gun Ownership

In a lively discussion in the Wall Street Journal, two physicians go head-to-head over a polarizing issue

About 38,000 people died from firearms in 2016; that’s more than the amount of people who died in car accidents. Should doctors routinely ask patients if they own guns? “No,” says Paul Hsieh, MD, a physician and co-founder of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine. “Yes,” says Megan L. Ranney, MD, the chief research officer for the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine.

In a wide-ranging discussion in the Wall Street Journal, the two cite many reasons for their stance, and individual readers will take away what they want. One of the issues Ranney takes on is the fear some patients may have that honestly answering the question: “Do you own a gun?” might be something the government could use against them.

“I strongly object to the idea that patient-doctor conversations are a governmental ruse to track people’s firearms,” Ranney writes. “Medical records are protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The Affordable Care Act specifically forbids creation of databases related to firearm ownership.”

Hsieh’s response? “Although the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act currently protects patient health information, laws can change and databases can be hacked. Given the politically powerful forces seeking to restrict Americans’ gun rights, many gun owners are rightly concerned such sensitive data may not remain private.”

But, again, that’s just one of many points raised by these two heavyweights. It’s an insightful and enlightening read.