The Physician's Responsibility Concerning Firearms and Older Patients
34 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2015
Date Written: June 10, 2015
The possibility of firearms ownership and possession by an older patient raises a number of issues with potential legal ramifications for the primary care physician. This article addresses some of the most salient of those law-related issues. It commences with a brief outline of gun regulation in the U.S. An enumeration of some of the specific aspects of gun ownership and possession by older persons ensues. I then comment on the collective role of the medical profession regarding firearms as a public health matter, followed by ideas about the individual physician’s appropriate role at the micro level regarding firearms within the context of the physician/older patient professional relationship. Specific attention is devoted to physicians’ rights in this arena and to policy arguments about converting those rights into legally enforceable obligations. The article concludes that it is undesirable for statutes to be enacted by state legislatures, but proper for common law to evolve through changes in professional practice and opinion in the direction of, imposing affirmative requirements on physicians to inquire about firearms ownership or possession by older patients and to counsel certain patients and their family members regarding associated dangers. Additionally, the law should recognize and encourage physician discretion to protect patients and third parties at foreseeable risk by intervening through notifications about suspected dangers to proper agencies and authorities, but such protective actions should not be mandated routinely by state statutes or judicial precedent.
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