Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What Do You Tell Your Pediatrician About Guns In Your Home

If you have kids you take them to the pediatrician. You have to fill out 1,000 forms just to get to the nurse and then answer 1,000 questions to get to the doctor who asks you the same questions the nurse asked you and you may or may not be on your way depending on the reason for your visit.

Of late there has been a trend popping up in pediatrician offices all over the place and that is the question of guns in the home. You may get it on a form or you may get it verbally asked to you by the pediatrician himself or both. The question might be stand-alone (like they were asking if you have lead paint in your home) or it could be more direct and depending on your answer can be grouped with other questions like, "Do you have a safe? Where do you store your ammunition?" etc. 

Just recently a mother messaged me and asked me what I advised to tell the pediatrician regarding gun ownership.

This topic has come up on Defensive Carry (a forum I frequent) and I've also done some searching around regarding the topic to better understand how it may affect me and my family if at all.

Make no mistake, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not like guns. Their own memos to pediatricians and parents advocate removing firearms from the homes where children are present and at the very least keeping the guns unloaded, locked up and ammunition stored separate. In the past they have been strong advocates for laws in states that require such storage measures.

They want pediatricians to advocate for removing guns from the home. They want them to encourage parents to ask other parents if there are guns in the home before they allow them to go to play dates. They want them to speak out about guns.

Of course, the truth of the matter is that there are some pro-gun pediatricians out there. They know that the average citizen is a responsible citizen and don't have a negative agenda regarding your gun ownership. I have heard of said pediatricians telling parents not to bother answering the question if it comes up on a form and will not ask in the office. They refuse to keep record of gun ownership.

Some pediatricians are totally neutral on the subject. They couldn't care less either way and asking whether you have a gun in your home is just another check box on the way to getting you out of there and on to the next patient.

And then there are some pediatricians who really have it out for your guns and will put you through the wringer if they find out that you do have a gun in your home.

So what do you do as a parent? Do you tell your pediatrician that you have guns in your home? If they ask should you answer truthfully?

I won't answer that question for you. I'll only tell you the perceived pros and cons of both sides of that coin and let you decide for yourself.

First, as far as I know, there is no legal obligation to answer any question on any particular medical form.

That is different if you are answering questions in regards to joining the military or seeking employment at a particular company or agency or when it comes to applying for insurance. The repercussions of withholding certain information or lying on forms for employment, etc vary by the employer, agency or insurance company and it is up to you to decide if that particular job or whatever is worth the question or not. Often medical questionnaires for employment or insurance do not include questions regarding firearms ownership.

In the civilian sector, however, you have no obligation to check yes or no to that box. If they press you to answer one way or the other, to my knowledge, you have every right to tell them it's none of their business.

And it really is none of their business. I thought long and hard about the possible benefits to telling your pediatrician you have a gun in your home and I couldn't come up with much.

The only possible positive I could come up with is if a parent is truly clueless about firearms and his or her partner were to bring a firearm into the home and they really had no clue how to safely store the gun. In which case the pediatrician is usually a poor source of information for that parent anyway. They often have no resources or better advice for individuals apart from telling that parent to get rid of the gun. If asked how, the pediatrician would likely not know other than to refer the parent to the police.

I would like to see them advocate contacting a local NRA certified instructor for information on safe handling and storage. I'm sure there are a few pediatricians out there who would do this but more often than not there is little discussion one way or the other on the subject and the parent goes away no better prepared to handle a firearm in the home than when they came in.

So what could be the down side of answering that question in the affirmative?

For starters, now there is a record. A searchable record at that. Almost everything these days is computerized and it wouldn't take more than a mouse click to see which patients have admitted to having guns in their home and which do not.

What could they do with this information?

They could make you feel uncomfortable. This may be minor to some people but it may be a big deal to others. No one wants to be made out to be a bad parent and having your pediatrician stand over you and berate you because you have a firearm in your home would certainly make some people feel belittled or perhaps even negligent of their children's safety. A mother or father who might not be comfortable with a spouses decision to bring a gun into the home might feel especially berated or even like a bad parent. The anti-gun pitch by the pediatrician being used as a tool to perpetrate an unreasonable fear of firearms in parents and children.

It could be used as a back-door registration. I'm not one for conspiracy theories but the government is not very good at respecting our privacy. As our healthcare system changes and gets more digitized and bureaucratic it's not at all a stretch of imagination to assume yours and your children's medical records can and will be viewed by some form of government at some point in time. There's also a lot of talk around the table about changes being made to HIPPA laws to allow more sharing of information between hospitals and agencies. There's no saying who might end up with that information in the future.

Why would they want to know if you are gun owner?

Will it come to the point where your seeking help for a mental or medical condition means a revocation of your Second Amendment rights? I don't know.

But they are already trying to do that to veterans. It isn't a leap of logic to assume it will be attempted in the civilian sector as well.

Will it get to the point where your coverage is affected due to your status as a gun owner? I don't know. But, again, there is no perceivable benefit to yours or your child's health by them having a "yes" checked off next to "Do you have a gun in your home?" in their computers.

I don't advocate lying to anyone. I certainly don't advocate lying to a physician about medical issues. I do, however, advocate using extreme caution telling anyone (including a physician) anything they don't have a need to know. If it's not relevant in treating the wellness of you or your child, omit it.

If you go to the doctor for a gunshot wound the question of gun ownership is relevant. If you go for a runny nose or a wellness check it is not.

Of course neither confirming nor denying their gun question is usually an confirmation of sorts. But if you have a strong ethical code against lying you might find refusing to answer the question the most palatable. Some even try to come up with clever ways to convince themselves they are not lying such as, "No." I don't have it in the home, I have it one me. It's up to you to decide how you want to answer that question.

My family has a long history of fighting with insurance companies over checked boxes on doctor forms and a long time ago my father warned me to be very careful about answering in the affirmative for any question regarding depression, head injuries, gun ownership or emotional issues.

That should never keep you from seeking medical attention for those conditions but you don't have to go check-happy on their intake forms.

Be aware that some pediatricians are going to great lengths to find out if you have guns in your homes. I have been made aware of a few cases of pediatricians questioning the child about guns in the home without the parent present. State laws vary as to the legality of questioning and treatment of minors without their parents consent. I challenge you to learn your own state laws so that you can be aware of whether or not your pediatrician can legally try to phish information from your child without your consent or knowledge.

In the end it's up to you to decide what you want to share with your child's pediatrician. If you haven't been asked by your pediatrician yet, be aware that it will probably come up at some time. Be prepared to have an answer. I've already gotten notes from parents who say they were so taken back by the question that they just blurted out, "Yes" and later regretted the decision to disclose. Be aware that the question will likely come and choose carefully how you would wish to answer it.


  1. Boy, am I glad I had my children a long time ago, when it was still "acceptable" to have guns in the house.

  2. I wouldn't answer and if pressed to answer I'd leave with my child without answering and find another pediatrician

  3. I agree with A SImple Man, I would just leave.

    If they are asking this question because guns present a danger to children; well there are about a million other things in a house that can potentially hurt a child: Most chemicals, cleaning products, kitchen utensils, any sharp object, your handy tools, even the furniture in your house can detrimentally hurt a child by them running into it or falling on it, all your glass windows – I’m sure the point is made so I’ll stop listing them. The thing is just about anything can hurt a child or an adult.

    I don’t have children but I think if a doctor asked me that questions I wouldn’t lie but I would avoid it by answering with a question and just keep asking questions and never answering that question, eventually someone will just drop it - them, Lol.

  4. I have 2 toddlers at home and I also own a few guns as well so I can relate to the importance of asking this question from a pediatrician standpoint. I would answer honestly followed by an explanation of why I own them and how I protect my children from unauthorized usage. Guns do serve a purpose in society both as a mode of self-defense and recreation (I use them for hunting). I ensure that I keep my children protected by keeping my guns locked away in a gun safe as well as putting the safety on them. These are displays of responsibility and accountability that every parent who owns a gun should exercise.