Educate your children about guns

There’s been an ongoing court battle here in the state of Florida over whether physicians have the right to ask families about gun ownership in their home.

The Florida Privacy of Firearm Owners Act was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott in 2011. This law prevents pediatricians from inquiring about gun ownership and discussing relevant safety information regarding how guns are stored and how to protect children from accidental injury. After a legal challenge by several state and national physician groups, in June of 2012 U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke declared the law unconstitutional and a restriction of a physician’s right to free speech. However, an appeals court has now overturned this decision and ruled in favor of the State of Florida.

Why do pediatricians ask about gun ownership?

When we think of our pediatrician, we probably think of school checkups, vaccines, or the person we seek if our kid is sick or in pain. But there’s another aspect of a pediatrician’s job that is critically important, one you may not be as familiar with. It’s called anticipatory guidance.

Anticipatory guidance means that it’s your doctor’s job to understand where your child is developmentally and to understand what challenges your child is likely to face in the upcoming season of his life. Your pediatrician is supposed to take all of the medical knowledge, all of the knowledge gained from seeing thousands of patients, and his or her knowledge of your family and your individual child and use that information to help you keep your child healthy. It’s not simply about treating an illness. It’s about preventing problems before they start.

Now that my son is nearly a year old, my pediatrician has begun talking to me a lot about safety. He knows that at this stage of life, the most likely threat to my son is injury. So he reminds me to strap him into his highchair to prevent falls. He asks me whether we have a pool or a pool fence. He talks to me about whether my son is climbing on furniture and whether our large furniture needs to be secured to the wall to prevent injury.

My kids have been perfectly healthy. It’s part of my pediatrician’s job to make sure they stay healthy, and I’m unbelievably grateful for that effort.

Talking to families about guns falls into this category of anticipatory guidance.

Firearm injuries are 1 of the top 3 causes of death in American children.

Firearm injuries cause more than 3,000 child deaths every year, most of which are accidental. Pediatricians ask families about gun ownership because guns are a threat to the safety of our kids. Educating parents about how to store guns safely (with a gun lock, in a locked cabinet with ammunition stored in a separate place) helps prevent tragedy.

But I don’t own guns. What does this have to do with me?

It’s easy to think that if we don’t have guns in our home or if we already know how to store guns safely, this issue just doesn’t pertain to us. Our kids will be safe because we already know the right things. The unfortunate reality, though, is that our children cannot always live in the safe, little bubble we create for them.

They will have play dates and sleepovers at other people’s homes. As they become teenagers, they will be influenced by peers and we won’t always have control over everything they do and experience.

More than one-third of all accidental shootings occur in the home of friends, relatives or neighbors.

Our children, mine and yours, could suffer the consequences of other people’s negligence, and when it comes to guns, the stakes are life and death.

In the past, pediatricians have added an extra layer of protection for our kids because they have a broad reach with a huge cross-section of families. They have made it safer for all of us because their influence extends deep into the fabric of families in every walk of life. However, that time has come to an end.

What should we do?

The current Florida legislation has robbed our children of vital protection against gun violence. That means that we as parents bear an even heavier burden of responsibility to protect our children.

The best way to minimize this damage is to educate your children.

Talk to your kids about guns. (My daughter is 4; we are talking about it.) Be sure they know that they are never to play with guns. Let them know that if they ever see anyone playing with a gun, they are to leave immediately and find an adult. Let them know that guns should never, ever be used without an adult. They are not toys; they can kill people.

No matter how awkward it may be, talk to others about it. If your child is spending the night at a friend’s house, ask them whether they own guns. Ask them how these firearms are secured. Ask grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors. If you are entrusting your child to their care, it’s your business.

Your child’s life may depend on it.

Courtney Schmidt is medical communications editor, Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, Orlando, FL. She blogs at Illuminate.

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  • John C. Key MD

    Law or no law, I’m not sure how effective pediatrician inquiry will be in this area. Anticipatory guidance is great in talking about foods and developmental milestones, but can it turn an irresponsible gun owner into a responsible one? I doubt it. Our cultural decline has put a lot of ill-equipped teens and young adults out there who are poorly equipped for parenting.

    I don’t know anyone in my ancestral line that wasn’t a gun owner, all the way back to at least the eighteenth century. I was raised around guns as were my parents and my offspring. Gun safety was always paramount. As a child in the 1940′s and 50′s, the guns in our home were always locked up with no child access as is the condition now in my home. And I still harp on gun safety to my kids, now in their 30′s. So do I still worry? Damn right I do. Accidents can always happen.

    So where are all these dangerous firearms? The gun owners I know are at least as safety conscious as I. I would surmise that the most dangerous locations are in homes where the parents are not fully engaged in responsible child-rearing, the same homes where kids can swallow the Drano or rat poison or stick a knife blade into the power outlet.

    I don’t support governmental dictating of anticipatory guidance, nor do I support a law that interdicts pediatricians from giving the advice they deem appropriate. But I don’t think this is an area where people are going to pay much attention to what the doctor says. Thus over-reaction to the Florida law is probably much ado about nothing.

  • Paul

    I fail to see how the author expects anyone to be persuaded by her arguments, when her “facts” are grossly in error. She states “This law prevents pediatricians from inquiring about gun ownership and discussing relevant safety information regarding how guns are stored and how to protect children from accidental injury.” It does no such thing. It does prohibit entering firearms ownership information in the record if it is not relevant. It does prohibit the doctor from “harassing” the patient about firearms ownership. It does NOT prohibit the doctor from discussing firearms safety issues. The reason for this law is that certain physicians DO harass patients and families about gun ownership, and it appears shortly that medical records will be an open book to the State, which has not shied away from firearms bans and confiscations in the past. If the doctor thinks the patient is a risk to himself or others, he can ask about firearms access and ownership.

    The actual code can be found at http://www.flsenate.gov/laws/statutes/2011/790.338

    Firearms injuries are NOT one of the top 3 causes of death in children. Only in the 10-14 age group do unintended firearm injuries even appear, in 10th place. Only by including homicides and suicides do more firearm deaths appear, and no safety measures can defeat deliberate actions. The author states that firearm injuries cause more than 3000 child deaths per year, “most of which are accidental”. She is mistaken or lying. From 2001 to 2010 there were 617 accidental firearms deaths in the age range 0-14. If you include up to age 19 as a “child” the number is 1479. Divide these numbers by 10 to get the annual rate. Not even close to 3000, or 1500.

    • NormRx

      I was all set to refute the nonsense in the above article, however you beat me to it and did it very well.

    • Jack London

      Come now – the Florida law is clearly aimed at gagging doctors as they lay themselves open to discipline if they mention guns.

      As for the gun harm figures, we have an extraordinary rate of gun injury and death in children and teenagers compared with other developed nations. Here a recent study:

      “Over 7,000 children are hospitalized or killed due to gun violence every year, according to a new studypublished in the medical journal Pediatrics. An additional 3,000 children die from gun injuries before making it to the hospital, bringing the total number of injured or killed adolescents to 10,000 each year.

      The new study, led by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine, highlights the toll gun violence has on child mortality rates in the country. Doctors surveyed the most recently released data from 2009 that tracked pediatric hospital stays.

      “This study reinforces what we know from the mortality data,” Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told NBC News. “We have an extraordinary health burden in our youth associated with firearms injuries.”

      In the 2009 Kids’ Inpatient Database (KID), 7,391 children under the age of 20 had been hospitalized for injuries from firearms and the majority of those gunshot injuries —4,559—resulted from intentional firearm assaults. 2,149 of those injured were accidents, and 270 were suicide attempts. Of the children who were hospitalized, 453 – 6% – died from their injuries.

      http://www.msnbc.com/the-last-word/the-toll-gun-violence-children

      • safetygoal

        If you drill down a little further into the article, it states that “84 percent of these shootings involved teens aged 15 to 19, and two-thirds of those were related to assaults. While the study’s database does not provide specifics, Leventhal said it’s natural to assume that gang violence explains some of these gunshot injuries.” It’s very doubtful that the guns used in these instances were found by these “children” in the home (parental property).

  • Ed

    They can ask whatever they want and we’re free to reply it’s none of your damn business; next question!

    • Eric W Thompson

      This makes sense. I suppose doctors are supposed to ask the kids if the parents own a car drive safely? Death by car has huge numbers.

      • Ed

        Outstanding!

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