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Trigger lock

Health care groups say doctors have a legitimate interest in asking parents of young children if there are guns in the house and whether certain measures have been taken to minimize risk of harm, such as use of trigger locks, above.

Health care organizations are urging Wisconsin lawmakers to reject proposed legislation that would bar doctors from asking patients if they own guns.

The measure, unveiled last week by Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, “is detrimental to medical providers’ ability to educate patients and in so doing prevent injury and death,” the organizations said in a memo Monday to legislators.

Schraa is circulating the measure for co-sponsors this week and is expected to introduce the bill next week.

“Owning a firearm, or not owning a firearm, is a personal decision that has nothing to do with your physical health,” Schraa said in a statement. “Patients should not feel intimidated or harassed by their physicians over the exercise of a constitutional right.”

Under the legislation, doctors who violate the ban could be fined $25,000 or imprisoned for nine months. Psychiatrists would be exempt.

The ban is part of a broader measure that would penalize local and state police for enforcing certain federal gun regulations and require firearms manufactured in the state to have a “Made in Wisconsin” stamp.

The bill, Schraa said, “sends a simple message to the federal government. Wisconsin will not help you take away our Second Amendment rights.”

But the doctor provision interferes with the doctor-patient relationship, said the memo from the health care organizations, including American Family Children’s Hospital, Dean Clinic, Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, SSM Health Care of Wisconsin, UW Hospital and UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

“It impedes physicians’ ability to deliver a firearm safety message to patients,” the memo said.

Psychiatrists aren’t the only type of doctor who asks about weapons, such as during suicide assessments, the organizations said. Pediatricians routinely ask about gun ownership to make sure parents know how to minimize firearm risks to children.

“It’s no different from any other safety measures,” said Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, a UW Health pediatrician. “We talk about car seats; we talk about bike helmets. We ask if the household cleaners are locked up.”

Navsaria said if parents say they have guns, pediatricians generally ask if the guns are unloaded, if the parents use gun locks and if ammunition is locked up separately.

Florida passed a law in 2011 that banned doctors from asking about guns. It was blocked by a federal judge, and the state has appealed.

Alabama, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia have introduced similar bills in recent years, but none have passed, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The academy says pediatricians should provide firearm safety counseling to patients and their parents.

In 2010, more than 15,000 children and adolescents younger than 20 were treated in emergency rooms nationwide for firearm injuries, the academy said. In 2009, 114 died from unintentional firearm injuries.

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