Wednesday March 27, 2001
First, Do No Harm
Second, Tell No Lies
By Dan Palm and Timothy Wheeler, Claremont Institute
CLAREMONT, Calif.-- The lead article in the March
21 edition of the New York Observer described a new effort
by the New York medical community "to inject itself into the national
debate on gun violence." Led by Dr. Jeremiah Barondess, Doctors
Against Handgun Injury (DAHI) proposes furthering nationwide gun
regulation, including background checks at gun shows, limits on
the number of gun purchases, and waiting periods for buyers. More
significantly, DAHI proposes that, as a routine matter, doctors
should question their patients about firearms in their homes, and
lecture gun owners about the risks associated with gun ownership.
"To promote public safety," says a DAHI
report, "health professionals and health systems should ask about
firearm ownership when taking a medical history or engaging in preventive
Claremont Institute supporters and members
will recognize this as merely the latest in an ongoing effort by
the anti- gun movement to enlist physicians and medical professionals.
An Institute project, Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, has
been spearheading the response to this attack since 1994. The core
of DRGO's message: private ownership of firearms is not only consistent
with the political principles of liberty and equality, it's also
sound public policy and, yes, even sound public health policy.
So why shouldn't your doctor follow
routine questions about your smoking, drinking, or exercise habits
with questions about guns in your home?
First, most gun owners are well aware of
the dangers posed by firearms, and take precautions with guns as
with any other dangerous device or tool. Had it bothered to check,
DAHI would know that pro-Second Amendment organizations such as
the National Rifle Association have emphasized safe storage and
handling practices above all else, and sunk millions of dollars
into the effort for years. DAHI is proposing that doctors do something
that the NRA has been doing for over a century.
Second, the data don't support the claim
that injury and death from firearms is so great that they should
be singled out by doctors. The anti-gun movement tends to convey
the impression that firearms in the home are a leading cause of
accidental death and injury.
In fact, Centers for Disease Control statistics
indicate that firearms are rather far down the roster: deaths and
injuries from swimming pools and falls from ladders annually outnumber
those from firearms. Accidental firearm deaths have been declining
steadily for nearly 100 years and are now at an all-time low.
Why, then, don't these same doctors propose
asking whether you have a fence around your pool, or whether you
exercise caution when climbing a ladder
The answer is that DAHI and similar anti-gun
organizations have a clear political agenda, and whatever they might
claim, you can bet it's not supportive of private gun ownership.
Worst of all, DAHI proposes that doctors
give patients a one-dimensional view of firearms. "Getting shot
and being dead is certainly a clinical issue," says Dr. Barondess.
If so, then presumably getting stabbed, raped or beaten to death
are, too, clinical issues. What if there existed a medical device
or tool that could quite effectively prevent a weaker person from
being stabbed, raped or beaten by a stronger one? Might not that
tool be considered a boon to public health?
There is now significant, well documented
evidence to show that firearms in the home or carried concealed
amount to just such a tool, and are a net health benefit. Statistics
from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) by the Census
Bureau indicate that at minimum 65,000 crimes are stopped or prevented
annually by armed citizens, usually without a shot fired. Thirteen
other studies estimate that far more crimes -- between 764,00 and
several million -- are thwarted by men and women with their own
To ignore data like this while focusing
only on the many fewer deaths caused by firearms -- accidental or
criminal -- is like a physician mentioning only the undesirable
side effects of a drug that occur for a few, ignoring its good overall
If Dr. Barondess and DAHI wish to offer
counsel about firearms ownership, it's disingenuous of them to present
their patients with only one side of the story. Doctors -- professionals
accustomed to carefully collecting, comparing and analyzing data
and making judgments from it -- should recognize the biased road
that DAHI is taking. The vast majority of American gun owners are
law-abiding, and they don't need their doctor to hector them about
a right guaranteed by the Constitution, and a tool many use for
protection of their own person and family.
[Editor's Note: Dan Palm is a professor of government
at Azusa Pacific University and a senior fellow of the Claremont
Institute. Dr. Timothy Wheeler is director of DRGO.]
2001 Copyright, The Daily Republican Newspaper.
All rights reserved.