My Doctor Wanted to Know if I’m a Gun Owner

Published by the LearnAboutGuns.com Author on December 18, 2008 at 12:24 am
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One of my hobbies is scuba diving.  As a responsible scuba diver, I make especially sure to stay current on my tetanus vaccinations, due to the heightened risk of puncture injuries on sharp objects (there are lots of sharp and rusty object in and around the water, and spending time in water makes one’s skin temporarily softer and easier to accidentally cut/puncture).  Since I was due for a tetanus booster, I scheduled an appointment at a doctor’s office that is just up the street from where I work.  As this was my first appointment at this office, they had me fill out a multi page form that asked about everything from allergies to occupation.  One of the questions, under the “Safety” category was whether I or anyone in my home owned a gun.

My thoughts on the question

Upon seeing this question, my first thoughts were of the Obama administration job application that asked a similar question.  I simply cannot think of a legitimate medical or safety reason for the doctor to need to know whether my girlfriend or I own a gun.

  • If the concern is whether I am a violent person who pose some risk to the doctor or nurses, asking about prior acts of violence, criminal convictions, or thoughts of violence could address that concern.  As a practical matter, I doubt that such a violent person would answer truthfully, but then again neither would someone who illegally owns a gun and/or intends to misuse it.  Nor does it make sense to focus on guns in particular, given the many other weapons that violent individuals use every day.
  • If the concern is for my safety, or the safety of others in my home, then asking about proper gun storage or gun safety education would address that concern.  Again, as a practical matter, I don’t see people who illegally own or misuse guns answering this questions truthfully.  The form didn’t ask about lead paint, forgetting to lock doors, or jogging alone at night, yet all of those things could pose much greater safety problems than lawful gun ownership.
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The privacy implication of this question also concern me.  The answer to this form would become part of my medical records, and could be seen by many people over the coming years.  While I enjoy guns and am proud to be a gun owner and gun rights supporter, I don’t want these facts known to the general public.  There are many rabidly anti-gun people out there, and I don’t wish to suffer harm to my career or in my personal life.  Nor do I wish for my home to become a specific target for a burglar who is looking to steal gun (even know my guns are locked in a safe when I’m not home).

Nor do I believe that I have any obligation to share with my doctor, or anyone else, information about my enjoyment of our constitutional rights.  The doctor has no reason to know whom I voted for (1st, 12th, and 15th Amendments), what religion I believe or don’t believe in (1st Amendment), whether I would demand a jury trial if accused of some wrongdoing (7th Amendment), or whether I keep and bear arms (2nd Amendment).

My options

Despite my disagreement with the existence of the question, it was a part of the form, and my answer would become part of my medical records.  I had to fill out the form in order to receive the tetanus vaccine, and I had 3 options as to how to answer that question:

  1. Answer “Yes”.  Doing so would disclose my gun ownership to this doctor, his staff, and anyone else who came upon my medical records.  I would feel unhappy, as a matter of principle, for disclosing information that I believe to be private and unnecessary for the doctor to know in order to provide me with a tetanus shot.  It could also lead to the doctor or his staff (wrongfully) having a negative impression of me, which could potentially have negative effects upon the qualify of care I would receive.  On the plus side, there would be a potential opportunity to try and dispel negative myths about gun owners.
  2. Answer “No”.  My privacy interests would be advanced, but I would lose an opportunity to demonstrate that law abiding, educated, and responsible individuals own guns.
  3. Ignore the question. Doing so would likely be tantamount to answering “Yes”, given the fact that I answered every other question on the form as the instructions requested.  Worse yet, it could appear as though I were unsuccessfully trying to hide the truth.
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My Solution

I went with Option 2, and falsely answered “No” to the question of whether I owned a gun.  I did so out of a desire to keep my private information private, and because I could see no nexus between a legitimate medical concern and this question.  I also knew that I would feel annoyed with myself were I to answer a question that I had no obligation to answer and didn’t wish to answer (chock that up to law school).

This solution didn’t sit completely well with me, as I missed an opportunity to advance my interest in promoting gun rights and dispelling misconceptions about gun owners.  So, I’m going to send an anonymous letter to the doctor’s office respectfully stating my disagreement with the question.

Your thoughts?

I’m particularly interested in hearing how other people would have handled this.  As always, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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  • Dane Robberson

    I share your disagreement with that question, and I’d like to know how they respond. Personally, I would most likely have answered ‘yes’ in order to investigate their response. Please keep us posted.

  • alex

    I agree with your choice. I also empathize with your feeling about having to make that choice. I have had a similar experience involving “new” questions on a form for a flight medical exam. A pilot is required to have these as often as every 6 months for 1st class (airline pilots,etc) or every 2 years for private pilots. They added a question years ago concerning whether the individual had seen a psychologist or any other type of mental health professional. I already know that any “yes” answer will result in an immediate but hopefully temporary suspension of license. Then the FAA would want to see all records including a counselors/therapist’s notes with every personal detail they might have written down. Here again, the people that would never consult a psychologist, are the ones that are the most likely to have problems. Getting some counseling for a personal problem is an indication of healthy problem solving. Nut cases never get help. If you are on medication, that can be answered from a direct question.
    Unfortunately, if this trend towards collecting personal information into a massive database continues, the fact that a person has seen a doctor, a therapist, a chiropractor or whatever will be available to anyone from the cop that is writing a parking ticket to a potential employer to the bank teller.
    No, they are out of line with these questions and we must use our own judgement.
    I wonder if the forms required to see a psychologist include a question about guns…

  • Danny

    I’d choose option one, but that’s just me, I’m weird that way. :p

  • Mick

    This is not a new idea. The American Pediatric Association came out with a position several years ago asking that that branch of medicine elicit such information from parents, siblings, or whomever else might bring a child into the office. They didn’t ask how gasoline is stored, whether the home’s doors were locked, etc.; it was a direct attempt to discourage firearms ownership, as the APA and the AMA both believe the harms of gun ownership outweigh the benefits. I wonder where they got that idea? As for my own response, I would have put my higher principle of privacy above the principle of unnecessarily detrimental honesty. In other words, it’s nobody’s freakin’ business!
    As an aside, our local Walmart asks whether .22 ammunition is going to be used in a rifle or pistol. The assumed purpose of this question is to prevent an 18-year-old from buying hndgun ammunition. I am asked this question any time i buy .22’s there. I am 51. I love to refuse to answer their question, demand to speak to management about this invasion of privacy, and insist that my complaint be forwarded to Wally H.Q. I know it won’t change anything, but it sure is fun blocking their one open lane.

  • AH

    I would have left the answer blank. Lots of times I am presented with a form that asks for information that is not relevant to the purpose at hand, and I tend to leave that information blank.

  • John B.

    I would have handed it back blank and asked why the question…

  • http://LearnAboutGuns.com Daniel

    I ask the why question and then told the nurse to leave it blank. I refused to give any weight to the question period. The problem I see with us good hearted Americans is, we feel compelled to answer questions ask of us especially when it comes from medical community. If I’m ask this question by the police? I have a question for them to answer first. Am I under arrest? If anyone ask that I don’t know I ask why they want to know, or by what authority do you ask. My gun ownership is known by many people it is not a secrete. I just will not answer any questions not relevant to the situation. It’s none of their Bee’s Wax ! Danny

  • Lynda

    Re “My Doctor Wanted to Know if I’m a Gun Owner”, my habit when asked offensive questions on a form is to put the letters “BONTN” meaning “Basis of Need to Know” and if the person has a problem with my answer, they may ask me about it. Strangely, I’ve never had anyone ask. Gun ownership is, indeed, an odd subject for a doctor’s questionnaire and, in my opinion, shows an agenda on the doctor’s part which has absolutely no applicability to his services. Actually, what I would have done is to return the questionnaire to the receptionist indicating I was taking my business elsewhere, with no explanation, even if it caused me an inconvenience. I would not have answered “no” since false answers have a way of coming back to bite you.

  • BasinBictory

    It's funny, but I remember a conversation I had with a co-worker who was asked this question (verbally – not on a written questionnaire) who said that yes, he owned a gun. He said that he then had to endure about a 5-minute long tirade from his doctor about the evils of gun ownership, yada yada yada, and how "amused" he was about it.

    What IS funny is that this particular co-worker is emphatically NOT a gun-nut or gun enthusiast, and IMO, it's highly suspect that he enthusiastically supports 2nd Amendment rights. He might be, (actually, I'm almost positive of it – due to his membership in the American Communist Party) the most liberal/socialist person I know. Moreover, at the time the question was asked of him, he was well into his late-40's, his only daughter was grown and out of the house, and he lived with just his wife, by all accounts a happy marriage. However, he does happen to own a nickel-plated beretta handgun, and mentioned it to the doctor. That the doctor flew off the handle just illustrates how rabidly anti-gun some people in the medical profession are.

  • tatorbug

    In regards to the physicians questionairre regarding ownership of a gun, I would have answered a question with a question and wrote, "DO YOU?".

    • Chad

      That's the answer I would give also. If the Dr. won't tell me, then I would take my business or medical needs somewhere else. Fuck 'em

  • WestBellevueDad

    The proper term here is "boundary violation". It's a term physicians will immediately understand. Further, they will realize they are dealing with somebody who knows the score. An organization called Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws has a piece on this at http://www.dsgl.org/BVD.htm

    Also, a Doc by the name of Tim Wheeler has a piece at the Claremont Institute regarding this issue: http://www.claremont.org/projects/projectid.12/pr

  • Brian

    The answer is the same as when I’m asked anywhere by people that don’t have a need to know
    NO

    • Jack Betz

      I somewhat disagree in that I prefer to aoid lying. I am more prone to say, what concern is it of yours as rudely as possible and then walk away.

  • Darlene Beck

    January 2010. Yesterday my daughter took her 2 year old son to the doctor. Questions asked her by the nurse included 1)Do you use a car seat for your child? 2)Do you use sunscreen on your child? 3)Do you use insect repellant on your child? and 4)do you have a gun in your home? WHAT?? does that have to do with treating any child for an illness? The nurse explained that the "government" wants to know, but you can decline to answer. After three seemingly benign questions, the question about guns is thrown in. I'm pretty sure that the "government" would say that this is for the safety of the child. Really??! How safe is the child when government sanctioned abortions are performed?

    • Zenbu

      Its simple, the government wants to know who own a gun so that if the 2nd Amendment is overturned, they will come for you first. The least you say about what you own, especially a gun, the better off they won't know where to look.

  • Evan

    3-30-2012 Hello, I live in Lousiana and I took my daughter to the doctor today. While waiting to see the doctor she was asked a series of questions by a CNA who typed the answers into a computer. The questions were something like: Do you have pets in your house? Does anyone in your house smoke? How many brothers and sisters do you have? Are there any guns in your house? Do you have any history of asthma? My daughter answered them all honestly, but we were both very surprised by the gun question. I know that her medical records have been computerized now and I see no good reason at all to be asked about guns. That has no bearing whatsoever on her medical treatment. I really wish I had answered "No" for her, but too late now. I don't care what they may say the reason is for wanting to know if you have a gun (or guns), it smells of big brother to me. I did an internet search and found this site. I am just glad I could get that off my chest and also glad to see I am not the only one uncomfortable with this.

  • Guns-R-Us

    I hear the liberal movement is to link gun ownership to mental disorder. Who in their right mind would want to protect themselves from the criminal element? The police will do that, just call them and ask.

  • Sgt Mustache

    Get off the 'liberal movement' crap….I'm a Conservative, and you're blowing hot air with your fake argument.
    I'm a proud gun owner, been an NRA member since 1972, and the bullshit I see blaming everyone for legal ownership is a lie.

    The doctor should NOT have asked the question…he was not treating a gunshot, which IIRC REQUIRES asking the question, and the immediate notification (While In The Office) of to the police.
    Gun ownership is NOT relative to medical treatment.
    You can say you do not understand the question. You can ask WHY the doctor, NOT the nurse taking down the info, needs the information…and you require documentation backing up the request.
    You can answer "not applicable'.

    You don't even need to answer at all.

    As to Guns-R-Us:
    "liberal movement" my ass. YOU Sir have been brainwashed by TV….the same 'liberal media' you have come to have contempt for.
    CITE YOUR INFORMATION as to the "link gun ownership to mental disorder" comment…and please don't tell me you saw it on FOX TV.
    Well? Can you?
    And be right to the point about it, I want to know, really. No obfuscation, that's for politicians and advertisers.
    Seriously…where did you see or hear this?

  • Joey

    I think that this question is inccluded as part of the mental health screening, not because gun owners are more likely to have mental illness, but because access to firearms significantly increases one's chances of having a successful suicide attempt. I have seen a lot of crisis screenings for suicidal people, and the question is always included, and can make the difference between an admission and outpatient treatment. Depression is one of the most common mental health problems, and primary care docs should be doing some screening. It sucks that some docs feel it is their place to lecture about gun ownership, but I do think that it is legitimate for a PCP to ask about access to firearms because it has a big influence on suicide risk, simply because they are by far the most effective way to commit suicide.

  • Mickey

    Every American Citizen deserves the right to have bare arms. If you tell people, it gets around they will either break into your house and steal them or the some unGodly reason the Fed. Gov. will find a way to confiscate them. So Hush Hush!!!!!!!

  • Jacob

    The only logical reason for this question to be on the form is to identify any possible contact with lead. However, if that were the case, they should ask if you fish as well.

  • ROBERT HENRY

    WHAT PARANOIA! I AM A DOCTOR. I ASK PARENTS @ THIS MERELY TO SUGGEST HOME SAFETY–SEPARATE THE AMMO FROM THE WEAPON, USE TRIGGER LOCKS OR GUN SAFES. I DON'T CARE HOW MANY GUNS YOU OWN. I DON'T FILE REPORTS WITH THE GOVERNMENT OR POLICE. BUT HOW MANY OF YOU HAVE TREATED A DEAD OR WOUNDED KID , SHOT WHEN THEY OR SOME OTHER KID GOT HOLD OF AN UNSECURED OR LOADED WEAPON IN THE HOME? THESE TYPES OF RESPONSES ARE WHAT GET YOU LABELED AS GUN NUTS. SHOOT YOURSELVES ,SHOOT YOUR HOME INTRUDERS OR ZOMBIES OR WAIT FOR THE APOCALYPSE. I DON'T CARE . FOR THE MEDICAL PROFESSION (AT LEAST ME AND MY COLLEAGUES, MOST OF WHOM OWN GUNS) IT IS JUST ABOUT SAFETY FOR KIDS IN THE HOME OR AT SCHOOL. WE ARE NOT GOVERNMENT AGENTS. WE DO NOT HAVE ANTI-GUN AGENDA . GET OVER YOURSELVES

    • Jerry Eaves

      Do you ask about the number of carving knives in the house? If not, why not? Do you ask about power tools that can maim or kill if not used properly? If not, why not. Do you not see the idioticy of asking about guns when you leave so many other safety issues unanswered? Whether or not I own guns is none of your damned business.

    • TN Cricket

      Why choose just 'gun' safety? Do you ask if they have both bleach and ammonia cleaners in the house, and then warn that mixing them together creates a deadly gas? A gun is a tool that requires practice to use effectively, and tools come with instructions….including SAFETY instructions. I would say that you'd have to live way out in the sticks not to have heard all the horror stories of kids misusing guns, but I grew up in those sticks. We had a mandatory two week hunter/gun safety course…. in public school, no less. But what do we hillbilly simpletons know?