Last Updated:November 27 @ 11:19 am

Pediatricians, Laws and Gun Owners

By The State (Columbia, S.C.)

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Some 57 House lawmakers have signed on to a bill that would make it illegal for doctors to discuss gun safety with their patients.

The bill has stunned some doctors, especially pediatricians, who say they do talk with patients about safety steps to be taken when there's a gun in the household, to make sure a child isn't accidentally shot. Besides, they say, they are guaranteed free speech under the First Amendment, just as gun owners have gun rights under the Second Amendment.

"They (gun rights supporters) are trying to get Big Government to come in and dictate what we can and cannot say, while at the same time, they are trying to tell Big Government to stay out of their right to own guns," said Dr. Deborah Greenhouse, a Columbia pediatrician who is president of the S.C. Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In the past 10 years, Greenhouse said, two children who were patients of her pediatric group's practice were killed in home gun accidents that might have been prevented if more safety procedures had been in place. Since then, she said, she has made it a point to ask patients if guns are in the home and, if the answer is yes, to review a safety checklist.

"No one has ever taken offense, and numerous people have thanked me," she said. "Many families aren't aware of all the safety procedures I discuss. And you wouldn't believe how many children know where their parents' guns are."

That's exactly the kind of doctor-patient conversation that a bill by Rep. Joshua Putnam, R-Anderson, would outlaw in South Carolina.

"We don't want citizens to feel like they are going to be intruded upon whenever they go to a physician," Putnam said in an interview last week.

Under Putnam's bill, except in relevant emergency situations, doctors would not be able to ask patients if they have guns. Since many gun safety discussions originate with that question, the bill could stop doctors from initiating conversations about safety.

The reason for the bill, Putnam said, is that he's trying to protect doctors from any future federal law that might force them to ask patients about gun ownership.

"What we are kind of scared of is where this will go down the road," Putnam said.

The bill contains no penalty. "We don't want to charge them with a felony or anything like that," Putnam said.

Some powerful lawmakers like the bill. House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, said, "I don't think it's a doctor's business to be asking about guns as part of medical treatment. People go to a doctor's office to be treated. That's not part of the treatment."

Delleney said he's not trying to limit doctors' freedom of speech, since a doctor can always talk about gun safety after office hours. "If doctors want to call them up or go visit them at home as a friend, I don't have a problem with that," Delleney said.

Delleney also said he's worried that doctors will keep a record of which patients own guns. "It's going to wind up recorded somewhere that they have guns, and it's their right to have guns," he said.

Putnam's bill doesn't refer at all to medical records. But Delleney, who in his job as a lawyer sees medical records, says, "That's what would happen."

The bill underscores a clash of values: Many doctors see gun injuries as a health hazard that can be prevented.

"Educating patients about safety issues is called 'anticipatory guidance -- preventing accidents, whether it's a car or gun or do not smoke in the house with a child -- it's at the heart of what we do," said Dr. James Durant, a Sumter pediatrician who in 2005 helped lead a crusade that led to the Legislature's passing a mandatory seat belt law.

Officials now credit that law with saving hundreds of lives a year across South Carolina.


Some lawmakers have reservations about the bill. Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Lexington, originally signed on as a co-sponsor but later removed his name.

"I heard from several physicians in my district. Most were pediatric folks, and they had concerns about safety," Huggins said.

In the past three months, three children in South Carolina have been shot and killed in their homes in the kinds of accidents that Greenhouse said she is trying to warn parents about. According to authorities:

-- Tmorej Smith, 3, was shot and killed Feb. 1 in his Greenville apartment while he and his sister played with a loaded handgun.

-- Easton Brueger, 8, was shot and killed by his father Dec. 30 in his Bennettsville home while his father was cleaning a rifle.

-- Sincere Smith, 2, was shot and killed in his Horry County home after he grabbed a loaded handgun sitting on a table.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott called Putnam's bill "asinine."

"Instead of preventing people from talking about gun safety, we should be encouraging more people to speak out," Lott said.

About 10 years ago, Lott said, one of his deputies' children was killed in a home gun accident. A neighbor's child came into the house, found the deputy's gun, which contained one bullet, and accidentally shot the deputy's child.

No one keeps precise statistics on the number of S.C. children killed and injured each year in home gun accidents. What statistics are kept on children are lumped together with firearm injuries and deaths that are caused by crime or are suicides or accidents.

Bill's chances

The S.C. Medical Association has not taken a position on Putnam's bill.

But Rep. Todd Atwater, R-Lexington, who is executive director of the S.C. Medical Association, said he doesn't favor any bill that would prevent or require a doctor to discuss certain issues with a patient. He is not a co-sponsor.

Last week, Putnam said he is working on an amendment that will give doctors more freedom to talk about gun safety as well as protect them from any future federal mandates that order them to discuss gun safety. "Both sides will be pleased with this legislation," he predicted.

Although the bill has been assigned to Delleney's Judiciary Committee, it has not yet been assigned to a subcommittee. Typically, amendments and hearings on a bill are held at the subcommittee level.

Greenhouse said she knows she'll be criticized for wanting to talk gun safety with patients. Indeed, a recent letter to the editor of The State newspaper said, "Talks about gun safety belong to dads, not pediatricians."

But other doctors don't want government dictating what they tell patients.

Dr. Allison Harvey, an emergency room physician at Palmetto Health Richland hospital, said she's a gun owner and a "strong supporter" of gun rights. However, "I don't think anybody should tell a physician what they should or should not tell a patient in the privacy of their own office," she said.

In the 18 years she's been an emergency physician, Harvey said, she has treated six to 10 children with gunshot wounds, half from hunting accidents and half from loaded guns being left out in homes.

"Every single one of them could have been prevented," said Harvey, a former president of the South Carolina College of Emergency Physicians.

Durant said, "It's better to prevent an accident than have to treat one."

What do you think?

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.


(c)2013 The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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  1. PATRIOTComment by PATRIOT
    March 19, 2013 @ 7:02 am

    Physicians, you are being paid to provide health care services and not to lecture on gun safety. Gun safety training is my responsiblity as head of the household. While in your office, I expect you to keep your comments to traditional health care related subjects. You will only discuss in my presence what I allow you to discuss, especially to my child. If you disregard my objections, I will immediately take my health care needs elsewhere.

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    • bluebloodComment by blueblood
      March 19, 2013 @ 11:32 am

      Exactly! I don’t need my doctor discussing anything with me other than my medical needs. If I need firearm training, I will go to an expert on firearms, not a doctor. Guess the doctors should discuss driving safety, boating safety, power tool safety, horse back safety, etc, etc.

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    • 77fordComment by 77ford
      March 19, 2013 @ 11:52 am

      Drs.Are healers not gun experts leave that to the parents

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    • 1389ADComment by 1389AD
      March 21, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

      I especially do NOT want doctors keeping records of discussions that they have had with patients regarding firearms.

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  2. sffd5Comment by sffd5
    March 19, 2013 @ 9:07 am

    Rather than make it illegal to discuss the issue. i think the more appropriate thing would be to supply the checklist and discuss with every parent. I see the good side of safety with guns. There may not be any guns in a child’s home but there may be some in a relatives home that are not properly stored. This could be a win for everyone. I do agree that asking does put the Dr and the patients at risk for other motives. Thus the reason of not asking just making it part of every well child visit which is where this is most appropriate. That equals about once a year. Who knows we may see more of decrease in gun related accidents from just talking to everyone about it.

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    • wumingrenComment by wumingren
      March 19, 2013 @ 9:49 am

      Exactly what I was thinking. The doctor should be able to provide information, but not collect information, about firearms. I have instructed my children to say, “No,” if ever asked if there are firearms in the home by anyone, but especially if asked by medical personnel, school personnel, or law enforcement personnel. They know not to talk to strangers or casual acquaintences about family matters, but it is those having color of authority that worry me the most.

      Given that authorities might coerce an answer by trickery, we role play situations that they might encounter. I give them a good workout with “good cop” and “bad cop.” Good Cop: “Okay, I know your daddy told you not to say anything, but I’m a police officer. I’m here to protect you. So, come on, you can tell me. You won’t get into any trouble.” Bad Cop: “Hey, you know it’s illegal to lie to a police officer? I can put you in jail for lying about guns in your house. If your daddy told you to tell me there’s no guns in the house, you’re both going to jail if I find one in there!”

      There was a time in America when we trusted our government. That day is long gone.

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    • CharlieComment by vietnamvet
      March 19, 2013 @ 11:39 am

      The doctor should say, “if you have guns at home, here are some safety tips to make everybody safer” … then run through the list.

      Asking IF there are guns in the home is outside of his perview, and using his ‘status’ to make it seem like an appropriate question is fraudulent.

      Even worse is if the answer to that question becomes a YES marked in a block on some saved form … which eventually becomes ‘federal data’ under Obamacare.

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  3. srfhouseComment by srfhouse
    March 19, 2013 @ 9:53 am

    Answering to the affirmative would be foolish, just another record to be chased down when our government decides that we are the children that need to be protected… Oh, wait, we’re already there.

    I grew up in a hunting family, a home with many guns. My children have grown up in a home with many guns. I learned, and they have learned how to use them, take care of them and how to respect them from an early age. I certainly do not want a safety lecture from my doctor every time I take my child in for an appointment.

    If you have a firearm in your home, it is no ones responsibility but your own to insure the safety of those who have access to them.

    If you feel that some safety tips from the doctor would be helpful or enlightening, then maybe you should reconsider gun ownership.

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  4. bulletfish2013Comment by bulletfish2013
    March 19, 2013 @ 11:21 am

    What is the whole issue here, guns, not child safety. In 18 YEARS she has treated six kids that were shot, half of them were shot by someone else, so 3 in 18 years. How many people does she talk to about common POISON exposures in kids. Most recent stats show almost 18,000 children under the age of 6 were treated last year for poison, and yes children die from poison too!
    We could say the same for car accidents.
    The fact is, they just want to rid the world of guns. Which they will never do.

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  5. memawComment by memaw
    March 19, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

    I was shocked to learn from my son that they were having trouble with finding a doctor for their children who doesn’t ask about guns in the home. This is absolutely none of his/her business unless he is treating a gun shot wound! I wonder how many other parents may be reluctant to get treatment for their children due to this reason. We live in pro second amendment Texas,too.

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  6. mach37Comment by mach37
    March 19, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

    Do pediatricians, or other doctors pry into their patients lives about kitchen drawers that contain knives, or cabinets that contain poisons, or workshops that contain tools? Guns are in the exact same category as those items, and deserve no greater attention from health care providers. Any who think otherwise are more politician than doctor.

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  7. stshepherdComment by stshepherd
    March 19, 2013 @ 5:11 pm

    To all these comments I say, as a doctor myself, are you all insane? I can’t believe I’m hearing some of these comments from what I’m assuming are God-fearing, morally decent, patriotic, constitution-loving American. I’m as conservative as they come politically- and you all are talking JUST LIKE THE CONTROL FREAK TOTALITARIANS ON THE LEFT! arguably, the most important part of medicine is preventive medicine. A doctor (generalist) generally ticks off a whole series of questions relative to preventive health as part of at least an initial exam. Are you telling me that gun safety isn’t relevant to the health and well-being of a toddler?! Have any of you ever HAD a toddler?! Hopefully all of you are anti-abortion but then you wouldn’t want to have a checkup your baby wan’t going to be killed by a gun if you might have been unaware of preventive measures for children? I don’t get it!
    The whole point is that the doctor-patient relationship should be sacrosanct, so that patients feel free to discuss anything that might be relevant to their health or those for whom they are responsible (children!). Their should be zero capitulation to the state for ANY type of information, and total control by the patient as to any information that IS released (with penalties for its misuse).

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    • wumingrenComment by wumingren
      March 19, 2013 @ 6:43 pm

      As I said, I think doctors should be able to provide information, but not collect it. The problem for some is that they see the doctor-patient relationship as being threatened by a government that wants full access to our medical records. A government controlled healthcare industry, with its mandated digital health record repository, puts confidential information at the fingertips of government bureaucrats. They will start out saying that they need the information to ensure economical care, but it will devolve to the point that it will be just a means for controlling a budget item. The information will be accessed by other bureaucrats, who will want to analyze the data for things outside of healthcare. It’s called “mission creep.” Those who wish to limit the number of people authorized to own firearms will scour the records to determine their mental health status. This will not only lead to inappropriate disqualifications, but it will, in the long run, result in people who actually could have benefitted from some marriage counselling from ever reaching out for help. Patients don’t always tell their doctors the full, unvarnished truth, but with government goons looking at your doctor’s notes, you will certainly withhold a lot more than things that might merely have been embarrassing.

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    • mach37Comment by mach37
      March 19, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

      As wumingren hints at, it has been proven time & again that lists that are available anywhere on the internet are subject to misuse or hacking – not only by computer hackers, but to being accessed by vigilante-style law enforcement people, and just plain nosy-bodies who work in law enforcement offices. There is little protection against information theft for anyone. Once the information gets out from behind supposedly secure firewalls it becomes available to everyone.

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    • PATRIOTComment by PATRIOT
      March 19, 2013 @ 8:32 pm

      stshepherd – you are out of line. Doctors have no business prying into their patients firearms matters. If a patient feels comfortable talking with a doctor about firearms, it is his/her business. I however would reject any attempt that any doctor might make pertaining to my firearms ownership status. Yes, I am telling you that my childs safety in my home is none of your business. I am responsible for safety within my home, you are not. You and all other doctors should be concentrating on healing and cease assuming that anyone with a firearm in their home is a danger to those in the household. I would seek health care with some other provider if you even mention firearms ownership during my exam.

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    • bluebloodComment by blueblood
      March 20, 2013 @ 6:04 am

      stshepherd – You claim to be as conservative as the next person but your comment tends to say otherwise. The conservatives I know want less intrusion into their lives, not more. Because you say this information would remain just between the patient and doctor, that does not make it so. With the continuing effort of the government to have everyone’s medical records on file to help with Obamacare, how would you keep the information concerning guns out of their hands. If you put a note in the records concerning your “gun safety” talk, eventually it will end up in the hands of Uncle Sam. Also, I have had a toddler in my home. I adopted my daughter when she was 3 days old and went to many home studies to make sure we would be fit parents. Not one time did they ask me about guns. I have always practiced safety first when it comes to guns. I pay my doctor to take care of my medical needs, not to be my Nanny!

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    • Bayushi ZeroComment by Bayushi Zero
      March 20, 2013 @ 10:45 am

      Hey doc.

      Allow me to let you in on a little secret.

      It’s none of your GD business!

      You handle the health care of your patient, not their private lives.

      FFS, *I* get asked by every new doctor I see (ER visits, Urgent Care, etc) if I am feeling safe at home. THAT IS THE EXTENT OF WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW!

      Whether I or others in my home happen to possess a firearm in the home IS NO ONE’S BUSINESS. NOT THE POLICE, NOT THE GOVERNMENT, AND NOT YOURS!


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  8. bzzoffComment by bzzoff
    March 23, 2013 @ 8:55 pm

    We have two boys, 8 & 9. They know their older Brother is a Police Officer. They know I used to be Law Enforcement, Military and D.O.J. They know we HUNT. They know we own weapons to PROTECT ourselves.

    Ask one of my young one’s what DO THEY DO if they see a weapon? They will say, together, LEAVE IT ALONE AND DON’T TOUCH IT! They have been taught that for over two years now that they understand.

    I’ve made sure that they adhere to this policy.

    I/we have NEVER been asked in a Doctor’s Office about/concerning Weapons Ownership. But we also will NOT CONDONE those type of Questions during a visit WE ARE PAYING FOR. And they will be Told.

    There are all kinds of POLICE. Sex Police…Gun Police…Political Police, Social Police…How many more do you wish to have?

    I say what GOES ON beyond my bedroom door is none of your damn business as well as what’s in my HEAD and my gun cabinet. Regardless if we have children or not!

    While here saying this, It’s Better To Remain Silent and Thought a Fool Than to Open Your Mouth and Remove All Doubt. Be careful whom you allow into your home and your LIFE! Trust no one except the FEW. Keep Situational Awareness always PARAMOUNT!


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