Bill Would Prohibit SC Doctors from Talking to Patients About Guns

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A bill now in the South Carolina House would make it illegal for doctors, or any health care providers, to ask their patients about gun ownership or gun possession.

Rep. Joshua Putnam, R-Anderson, says, “It wasn't ever to exclude physicians of talking about safety. We don't want physicians to make a log of patients and who owns guns and what type of guns. We want to send a message to the citizens of the state that they're not going to be intruded on every time they go see a physician for a cold or the flu.”

But doctors see the bill as a ridiculous, and probably unconstitutional, intrusion into what goes on in an examination room. Columbia pediatrician Dr. Deborah Greenhouse says she talks to parents about guns and gun safety at pretty much every well visit. “If the family does have any guns, I will make sure that we discuss the safest way to keep them stored, which is locked, ammunition separate and very definitely not actually loaded and out in the open,” she says.

Samantha Spires was in Dr. Greenhouse's office Tuesday because her 4-year-old son Trevor has an earache. She says Dr. Greenhouse has asked her whether she has any guns in her home. “I would rather her ask than not ask, and I don't know anybody who would think that's an intrusion,” she says.

Putnam says when the bill gets assigned to a subcommittee, he'll propose an amendment to make it clear that doctors will be able to talk about gun safety. He says he introduced the bill after hearing that the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, might include language about doctors and guns.

“What we're scared is the federal government comes down to South Carolina and tells all of our physicians every time you see your patient, you've got to inquire about what type of guns, what type of ammunition, so we don't want it to be that abrasive here in South Carolina,” he says. He says his amendment will protect doctors from getting into any legal trouble if they don't ask about guns.

Dr. Greenhouse says she won't stop talking to her patients' parents about guns and gun safety, especially since three children in the last few months have been killed in their homes by firearms. “This law, essentially, would only allow us to talk to children about gun safety and the parents about gun safety after the child has been shot. I don't want to do that. I want to talk to families before that and prevent the child from being shot,” she says.

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