Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
On January 10, City of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced his legislative agenda for 2019. In what represents the latest leftist assault on privacy rights and gun ownership, the Mayor proposed that medical professionals be required ". . . to ask patients about the presence of guns in their homes. . . " The government mandated interrogation is to be undertaken ". . . with the goal of identifying red flags that could indicate risks relative to suicide, domestic violence, or child access to guns."
In point of fact, the Mayor's proposal is the latest end-around towards developing a comprehensive registry of gun ownership within Boston, a clear violation of Bostonians' privacy rights and an intimidation tactic designed to shame gun owners into relinquishing their guns.
Amazingly, the topic of physician inquiries into their patients' gun ownership status is marred with controversy. This is largely due to the incredulous position and legislative efforts undertaken by the American Academy of Pediatrics in support of banning handguns. In 1992, the AAP, an organization created for the purpose of promoting pediatrician education and representing issues important to pediatricians, actually thought it was sound legislative policy to intrude onto the expressed constitutional rights of American citizens by supporting legislation that would "prohibit the possession, sale or manufacture of handguns in the United States." Stupidly, the AAP then went on to post it on their website as one of its stated missions.
The issue came to a head when, in the State of Florida, legislation was introduced that would fine a physician $5 million for merely asking a patient if he or she had a gun in his or her home. The proposed legislation arose from an incident where a dense physician in Ocala, Florida, refused to see a patient because she would not disclose her gun ownership status. The logical and sane conclusion to the controversy would have been for the woman to simply see another doctor and share with her friends and community the lunacy of the physician through personal or media communications. At most, she could have reported this physician's unethical practice to the Board of Medicine and let the issue play itself out that way. Instead, she chose to approach her state legislator who propagated the insanity by proposing a multi-million dollar punishment for physicians who merely ask a question. The fact that the state legislature even considered the bill is a testament to the absurdity of the times in which we live.
Ultimately, the bill was watered down so that what was passed, the Firearms Owners' Privacy Protections Act (FOPA), prohibited physicians from documenting a patient's gun ownership status unless it was directly relevant to the care of the patient. The bill also prohibited physicians from discriminating against an individual based on the person's gun ownership status. Violation of the law was punishable by ". . . a fine of up to $10,000.00, a letter of reprimand, probation, suspension, compulsory remedial education, or permanent license revocation."
The ensuing multi-year, multi-million-dollar, social and legal controversy ended with an Eleventh Circuit Federal Court ruling tossing the law out as unconstitutional, but the ridiculous, unnecessary, and painful process did bring to light a number of issues regarding the nexus between health care, medical documentation, and personal liberties.
First, indisputably, a physician ought to be able to ask a patient about guns. The issue of accidental gun deaths is a serious problem in American society. Anywhere between 77 and 113 pediatric, gun-related deaths take place in our country each year. Efforts at curtailing these deaths are generally laudable, and the fact is that primary care physicians such as pediatricians engage in all sorts of health screenings designed to prevent disease or injury. Gun safety should be no different.
On the other hand, gun ownership is a cherished right that is to be zealously guarded. Any organization, including the AAP, seeking to decimate that right must be vehemently opposed. The act of refusing a gun owner service merely because that owner is wishing to protect a right expressly enshrined in the Constitution is unconscionable and becomes even more egregious when the patient's ownership status becomes part of his or her permanent record and accessible by the government. Perhaps, the greater problem is our acquiescence to government funding of our health care and to giving it access to our personal information, but that is another issue altogether.
The principal benefit to our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is to provide a check upon the power of government. That effect is undoubtedly endangered when the government is allowed to know exactly who owns such weapons and unduly regulates who accesses them.
Florida and its physicians learned valuable lessons about gun rights and health care through its experience with the Doc v. Glocks drama; lessons that apparently were not heeded by Mayor Marty Walsh.
Mayor Walsh's proposal is vastly more draconian than either the Ocala physician's actions or the state legislature’s response to it. Walsh wants to mandate that physicians interrogate patients about gun ownership. This would no longer be a situation where a pretentious physician on an individual basis decides to ask a question to the point of sacrificing his relationship with his patient. What Walsh is proposing is that physicians work as agents of the state to collect information from patients regarding their most sacred rights and record it for the government's benefit. The very idea of this proposal strikes a dictatorial and oppressive tone.
Adding to the tyrannical optics, it is the Police Commissioner who is out in public heralding the benign intent of the proposal. Boston Police Commissioner William Gross explained that the goal would be to identify those at risk for domestic violence, suicide or child access to guns in order to guide people to mental health counseling, resources or other help. In short, he said, "We’re just asking [medical professionals] to help identify ways to save lives.”
Isn't it interesting that practically every oppressive idea proposed by the left is buttressed by the goal of saving lives? And by the way, despite the Police Commissioner's comment, the government wouldn't be asking for help, it would be mandating it. In short, anyone harboring a concern regarding excessive governmental intrusion ought to instinctively recall Benjamin Franklin's words: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
From a practical nature, it is clear that neither the Mayor nor the Police Commissioner have given their proposal sufficient thought. Not only does their recommendation clearly intrude on people's liberties, but what happens when a patient refuses to divulge such information? Are we going to refuse him or her treatment? Will we fine him or her, or jail the person? What happens if a physician refuses to participate? And what happens if there is a gun-related accident, death, or suicide following a contact with a physician, does the doctor become liable?
Mayor Marty Shaw's proposal is a bad idea at so many levels. It is draconian, offensive to the Constitution, disrespectful to the free and unencumbered practice of medicine, and an undue intrusion into patient's privacy rights. Bostonians must oppose it lest the mayor's disease spread elsewhere.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He is the author of The Federalist Pages and served in the Florida House of Representatives. He can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com to arrange a lecture or book signing.
Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
Dr. Gonzalez is an orthopedic surgeon and lawyer serving as State Representative for South Sarasota County in Florida. He is the author of The Federalist Pages