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Florida Gun Legislation Will Hinder Pediatricians' Efforts to Protect Children

4/28/2011  

CHICAGO—The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) joins the Florida Pediatric Society and other physicians and medical professionals in expressing grave concern over the Florida Legislature’s passage of a bill to restrict the ability of pediatricians to ask patients and parents simple counseling questions about gun safety without fear of sanctions from the state medical board. The bill awaits the signature of Governor Rick Scott.

The bill will limit pediatricians’ capacity to do what they do best – compassionately and effectively help families care for their children. Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in children older than 1 year. Pediatricians play a key role in injury prevention by providing anticipatory guidance to parents during office visits to lower the risk of injury in the child’s everyday environment. During these visits, several aspects of the patient’s home are discussed,

including swimming pools, hazardous chemicals, smoke detectors, medications and firearms. These conversations help pediatricians and other physicians to partner with parents to keep their children safe.

In addition, pediatricians are often the first medical professionals to identify children, teenagers, and young adults with depression or other mental health issues, as well as those vulnerable to abuse. The presence of a firearm in a home increases the risk of suicide even among those without a previous psychiatric diagnosis. The increased risk of suicide is particularly striking for younger people in homes where guns are stored either loaded or unlocked.

“The patient-physician relationship is a confidential one,” said AAP President O. Marion Burton, MD, FAAP. “This bill is a harmful, unnecessary, and unprecedented government intrusion into the patient-physician relationship. Restricting the type of conversations that physicians can have with patients not only violates physician professional standards and clearly flies in the face of our First Amendment rights to free speech, but gravely threatens the health and well-being of patients. Similar legislation has already been proposed in other states, and we urge leaders in Alabama, North Carolina and elsewhere to reject these bills outright.

“Nearly every day we hear tragic stories about firearm injuries that could have been prevented by a simple conversation between a physician and a patient,” Dr. Burton said. “Limiting these conversations will only increase the number of these tragedies.”

The AAP calls on Florida’s governor to veto this legislation and to protect children from needless injuries and deaths by maintaining a strong physician-patient-family relationship.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org.