Lawful gun owners have a right to be protected from “harassment” by physicians who lecture them about the dangers of firearms, according to an Arkansas doctor.
Writing in the Louisiana Law Review, Dr. Frank Griffin claims physicians overstep ethical boundaries and violate gun owners’ privacy rights when they question them about whether they have firearms at home that are safely stored and inaccessible to children.
“Physicians do not have a scientific, medical justification to adopt all-encompassing public health stances against gun ownership,” wrote Dr. Griffin, a retired orthopedic surgeon and an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
According to Dr. Griffin, a 2011 Florida law, the Firearm Owners Privacy Act (FOPA), which gave patients the right to “decline to answer or provide any information regarding ownership of a firearm by the patient or a family member” should be a model for other states.
The law was overturned as unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in Atlanta in 2017, in a case that was popularly referred to as “Docs vs Glocks.”
The Florida legislature tried another tack in 2018 with a statute prohibiting licensed health care practitioners from entering “any disclosed information concerning firearm ownership into the patient’s medical record if the practitioner knows that such information is not relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others.”
Public health advocates argue doctors have a key role to play in preventing gun violence and the abuse of firearms by intervening proactively in situations where they believe the presence of weapons represents a potential danger to an individual or others in his or her family environment.
But Dr. Griffin dismisses such arguments as attempts to impose political views.
“Democratic physicians are more likely to consider gun ownership a serious health issue than their Republican counterparts,” he wrote, citing surveys that he said show Democratic doctors more frequently advise patients to remove guns from their homes and forego their Second Amendment rights while giving “medical advice inside the patient–physician relationship.”
He claimed that some doctors “even have refused to continue the patient–physician relationship with children whose parents refused to disclose their gun ownership information.”
“Doctors abuse their elevated positions in the workplace when they use political bias to harass or discriminate against lawful gun owners in the context of the patient–physician relationship,” he wrote.
Dr. Griffins’ views echo positions taken by the National Rifle Association (NRA) which has called on doctors to separate their anti-gun opinions from their medical practices.
“Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane,” tweeted the NRA last November. The organization is holding its annual convention in Indianapolis this weekend.
While Dr. Griffin conceded that firearm discussions can be “ an appropriate part of the patient–physician encounter” when dealing with patients who might be at risk for suicide, he maintained that blanket anti-gun attitudes on the part of physicians could in fact harm a gun-owning patient’s health.
“Politically biased, one-sided, gun ownership admonitions may cause harm to patients by denying those patients secondary health benefits related to gun ownership and gun-related recreational activities,” Dr. Griffin wrote.
“States should be able to require physicians to act in their patients’ best interests by recognizing both sides of firearm discussions and avoiding politically biased treatment recommendations.”
In fact, he suggested that lawful gun ownership directly benefited patients’ health.
As an example, he wrote, “an overlooked health benefit of gun ownership is physical exercise, which is especially important in an increasingly sedentary and obese American population.”
Dr. Griffin rejected arguments that prohibiting doctors from discussing firearm ownership infringes on their free speech rights.
“The patient–physician relationship centers on the patient—not the physician,” insisted Dr. Griffin. “Legal analysis, therefore, should begin with an analysis of the patients’ rights to privacy and gun ownership, not the doctor’s free speech rights.
“Physician free speech rights should be considered only after the patients’ best interests and fundamental rights are assured.”
He argued that in states where “unprofessional treatment of lawful gun owners occurs, state legislatures are empowered and constitutionally justified in passing gun privacy laws to protect citizens from political bias inside the medical profession—including politicized speech masquerading as medical advice and alienating lawful gun owners.”
Such protections he said were already enshrined in the Affordable Care Act and the American Medical Association’s standards of ethics.
Read the full paper here.