LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Proposed Missouri gun legislation would present health hazard

Thursday, March 7, 2013 | 12:05 p.m. CST

We are writing to express our disappointment and frustration with two pieces of proposed legislation that represent the latest development in our state’s gun debate. Missouri Senate Bill 266, sponsored by Sen. Brian Nieves, would prevent health care professionals from entering information about gun ownership in the medical record. Missouri House Bill 732, sponsored by Rep. Ron Hicks, would go even further and prohibit health care providers from even asking about guns in the home. 

This bill not only represents an inappropriate intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship, but more importantly, it is a health hazard. Health prevention is one of the most important roles of medical providers, especially for pediatricians and family doctors.

During a well-child visit, physicians will discuss proper car seat use, seat belt use, bike helmets, guns in the home, drowning prevention and parental tobacco use — all in the interest of a child’s health. It is the same reason adults will hear their physicians ask about smoking habits, exercising, drinking and diet. While adults die of lung disease, heart disease and stroke, unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in children older than 1 year. And 20 percent of all injury deaths in the U.S. for children 1-19 years old are firearm-related.

A 2005 article in the journal Pediatrics found that more than 35,000 Missouri children live in a home with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm. Parents who were counseled on safe storage by their physician were understandably more likely to adopt a safe gun-storage measure. Medical professionals do not ask about guns in the home because of their political ties, curiosity or a desire to invade privacy — they do it in the interest of a child’s health and safety.

Arbitrary intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship for political reasons jeopardizes that sacred institution. To provide the best care possible, doctors must be able to ask about and document personal information, and patients must be able to trust their providers with this information. 

Landon Krantz and Alex Sable-Smith are students at the MU School of Medicine.

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