Beware: Doctors Can Legally Ask You About Your Guns

There’s a new push from a California university for doctors to start routinely asking their patients about their gun ownership, and it’s completely legal, they say.

Dr. Garen Wintermute, director of the violence prevention research program at the University of California Davis, and his colleagues want to add firearms to the office visit for the same reasons, they say, that doctors ask if their patients smoke and counsel them to wear their seat belts in a car, according to this story from Time.

"No laws prevent doctors from asking patients whether they have guns in their home and telling law enforcement authorities about the guns if they're concerned about the possibility of violence, the authors wrote in an article posted online Monday before publication in the Annals of Internal Medicine," according to Forbes.com.

Still, there are plenty of reasons why doctors don’t want to, even though it may be legal.

According to the Forbes story, Wintermute says many physicians mistakenly think it's illegal to ask patients, or patients' parents, about whether or not the own guns, because of the infamous 2011 Florida "Docs v. Glocks" law that says health practitioners should refrain from do so:

"A practitioner who 'in good faith believes that this information is relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others’ may ask about firearms, and only information that ‘is not relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others’ is excluded from medical records.”

According to the story, doctors contended that the law was unconstitutional, and a U.S. District Court ruled in their favor. Then, a three-judge panel overturned that decision. But, in February, the full court vacated the panel's decision and agreed to rehear the case. Until that happens, doctors in Florida are free to ask their patients about guns.

Wintemute also said in the story that he wanted to clear up misconceptions that the Affordable Care Act includes language prohibiting doctors from asking questions about guns. According to Wintemute, "The ACA does include a section entitled ‘Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights,’ but the scope of these provisions is narrow.’”