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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 counseling."
     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 firearms.
    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 effects.
    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.

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