June 3, 2011— -- Doctors and gun control groups say they will challenge a Florida law, signed Thursday by Gov. Rick Scott, that bans physicians from asking patients about gun ownership.
"Gov. Rick Scott should realize the risks to public health and safety that he would be sanctioning by giving into the gun lobby's agenda," the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said in a joint statement with the Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians and American College of Physicians.
When it was first proposed in January, the gun gag bill sparked outrage among pediatricians, who said asking parents about guns in the home was not only their right but their responsibility.
"Including a discussion about gun safety during checkups at a pediatrician's office is no different than encouraging parents to use car seats or keep poisons locked up," said Dr. John Moses, an associate professor of pediatrics at Duke University. "The issue here is not the right of gun ownership, but simply child safety and the prevention of tragic injuries that can be avoided by proper gun storage."
But supporters of the bill, proposed by State Rep. Jason Brodeur and nicknamed "docs and Glocks," said it protects patients' privacy as well as their right to bear arms.
"Parents don't know what to believe and don't know why their state wants to know if they lawfully own firearms," Brodeur said in a January statement, adding that the purpose of the bill is to protect families from being denied treatment for refusing to answer questions about guns in their home.
"Parents are often not aware that unsafe storage of guns has caused many child injuries and deaths," said Dr. Neal Kaufman, professor of pediatrics and public health at the University of California, Los Angeles Schools of Medicine and Public Health. Pediatricians have a responsibility to identify possible threats to a child's safety and highlight ways parents can lessen those risks, Kaufman said.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to be used to kill a friend or family member than a burglar or other criminal. The best way to avoid firearm injuries and deaths is not to own a gun. Parents who do own firearms should keep them well out of children's reach with trigger locks activated and the ammunition stored separately.
"We are not trying to get rid of guns, or to report on them," said Dr. Mark Groshek, a pediatrician and physician chief of clinical strategic support at KP Colorado HealthConnections. "We want to be sure parents know how to keep guns at home in a way that protects their kids."
Some pediatricians liken talking about gun safety to discussing other risky behaviors for kids.
"Informing parents about the risks and recommended safety measures revolving around guns in the home should not be censored any more than discussions of teen sex, drug use, or other risky but reality-based behaviors," said Dr. Laura Jana, a pediatrician with Practical Parenting Consulting in Omaha, Neb.
An estimated 41 percent of gun-related homicides and 94 percent of gun-related suicides would not occur without access to guns, according to a 2002 study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
"Physicians should continue to discuss with patients the implications of keeping guns at home," wrote study author Douglas Wiebe, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Public Health Initiatives, adding that additional studies are warranted to "better understand the implications of firearm ownership."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.