Talking Out Of Both Sides Of Their Mouths

posted on May 6, 2016

For moms (and dads), it can feel like pediatricians and gun-owning parents are talking over each other’s heads and not getting at the real issues. When confronted with the argument that it is inappropriate for doctors to quiz patients about whether they own firearms, we often hear members of the profession try to justify why such a conversation should take place. “You’ve got to understand, these days there is so much emphasis in medicine on deterrence. We simply have to talk about safety and help parents to understand best practices.”

The obvious answer to such an objection—other than maybe the snarky one that blundering doctors kill far more Americans per year than people with guns—is that you don’t need to ask someone whether they own a gun in order to share some useful gun safety tips with them. There is little doubt that most pediatricians are honestly trying to do what’s right for children, but that doesn’t require them to breach their patients’ privacy. 

But the problem goes deeper than that. Policy on this issue within the medical profession is being driven by big organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). And while the AAP is candid about the fact that they lobby in support of federal gun control, the evidence just doesn’t back up the claim that educating families about gun safety is a priority for them. The AAP is so focused on lobbying for gun control, commanding parents not to own guns and encouraging doctors to invade their privacy that they’re apparently unwilling to offer detailed tips for responsible gun ownership.

If you doubt this conclusion, take for example a copy of a pamphlet from The Injury Prevention Program (TIPP), an initiative run by the AAP. Right there on the front page, the heading “Firearm Hazards” is prominent. This was the entirety of what the pamphlet had to convey about gun safety: 

Children in homes where guns are present are in more danger of being shot by themselves, their friends, or family members than of being injured by an intruder. It is best to keep all guns out of the home. If you choose to keep a gun, keep it unloaded and in a locked place, with the ammunition locked separately. Handguns are especially dangerous. Ask if the homes where your child visits or is cared for have guns and how they are stored. 

Nothing about rules of safe gun handling. Nothing about teaching children what to do if they find a gun. Even on the subject of gun storage, the safety tips themselves are a hasty afterthought. The primary takeaway here is obvious: “Don’t own a gun.” 

Oh, but surely the AAP does offer gun safety tips to parents, right? If they do, they surely aren’t easy to find. The statement from their website cited in the third paragraph doesn’t provide any help, and the “policy statement” that it links to is actually a journal article (which, let’s face it, likely won’t make sense to the average parent). There doesn’t appear to be any honest effort to educate families about how to live safely with firearms, because that would be more complex and nuanced than just telling them not to own guns. 

Contrast the AAP’s concern with firearms with their stance on drowning, which certainly happens to many young children (far more than accidental shootings) in bathtubs and swimming pools. The AAP is more than happy to offer detailed tips on swimming safety—with nary a suggestion that you should stay at home where it’s safer. 

The truth is, families would continue to enjoy swimming pools even if their doctors told them not to, so of course it makes sense to offer practical advice tailored to reality. The AAP is so focused on lobbying for gun control, commanding parents not to own guns and encouraging doctors to invade their privacy that they’re apparently unwilling to offer detailed tips for responsible gun ownership. That shows that they’re more committed to an anti-gun agenda than to serving doctors and patients—and that their worldview is frighteningly distant from reality. 

Parents own firearms for many different reasons. For those of us who can’t afford to live in as safe a neighborhood as we would like, it’s especially important to be able to keep our children safe. To brush off all of our real-world concerns and tell us that owning guns makes us bad parents is insulting—but more than that, it’s naïve and wrong.


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