Earlier this week, I wrote about legislative majorities’ power and short-sightedness. I argued that those in the majority often are tempted to address what amount to somewhat personal frustrations with having been in the minority, or having other branches of the government not behave as one would wish. I also argued, from historical examples, that such exercise of majority power often leads to what I’ll call “legislators’ regret.”
Which leads me to the Florida Legislature’s decision to muzzle doctors.
Last month, a federal appeals court declared that a law passed by the Florida Legislature that prohibits doctors from asking about guns in the household of a patient is “legitimate regulation of professional conduct.”
Which means that my doctor can ask me about absolutely anything else related to the likelihood of injury or death in my home (e.g., how do I lay my baby down for a nap, do I have a pool and is it fenced or alarmed, do I buckle myself and my children up in the car, where do I keep the dangerous household chemicals and medicines, am I prone to violence toward my spouse or my children, am I depressed, am I promiscuous, do I drink alcohol and how much, what drugs do I take), but not something that is among the top 10 causes of injury death in every age group other than infancy. Indeed, according to the latest data available from the Centers for Disease Control, firearms are associated with more injury deaths overall than anything other than poisonings and motor vehicle accidents (risks for both of which, it should be noted, doctors can explore at length with their patients).
To me, the irony here is that muzzling doctors may well work against the interests of the gun lobby and its legislative friends. By not allowing doctors to discuss gun ownership, the law precludes doctors from exploring whether someone who does not own a gun should own a gun. A doctor could, of course, just suggest gun ownership as a good thing in general, but doctors usually make recommendations based on the individual patient’s specific situation. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” may well discourage that line of conversation.
(Which suggests, at least to me, that the NRA and the Florida Legislature presume that doctors will generally view guns as a threat to patient health, rather than an asset. If one thought doctors would promote gun ownership, wouldn’t one want doctors to ask about guns?)
What is more, because a doctor can’t discuss safety measures to protect against unintentional injuries due to firearms (and to protect against suicide and homicide, major causes of death by firearms), the likelihood is that there will be more preventable carnage, which may (someday) lead to stricter regulations on gun ownership . . . when the majority of the legislature changes, as it has in the past and will again in the future.
But such a perspective requires the ability to see beyond the pitches of lobbyists seeking to demonstrate their influence, as well as our personal piques and passions.
So, the next time you are sitting in the examining room wearing that oh-so-stylish paper gown and contemplating how completely exposed you really are, be sure to thank your legislator for protecting you from the ultimate intrusion on your privacy . . . being asked whether or not you
own a gun.