One of my hobbies is scuba diving. As a responsible scuba diver, I make especially sure to stay current on my tetanus vaccinations, due to the heightened risk of puncture injuries on sharp objects (there are lots of sharp and rusty object in and around the water, and spending time in water makes one’s skin temporarily softer and easier to accidentally cut/puncture). Since I was due for a tetanus booster, I scheduled an appointment at a doctor’s office that is just up the street from where I work. As this was my first appointment at this office, they had me fill out a multi page form that asked about everything from allergies to occupation. One of the questions, under the “Safety” category was whether I or anyone in my home owned a gun.
My thoughts on the question
Upon seeing this question, my first thoughts were of the Obama administration job application that asked a similar question. I simply cannot think of a legitimate medical or safety reason for the doctor to need to know whether my girlfriend or I own a gun.
- If the concern is whether I am a violent person who pose some risk to the doctor or nurses, asking about prior acts of violence, criminal convictions, or thoughts of violence could address that concern. As a practical matter, I doubt that such a violent person would answer truthfully, but then again neither would someone who illegally owns a gun and/or intends to misuse it. Nor does it make sense to focus on guns in particular, given the many other weapons that violent individuals use every day.
- If the concern is for my safety, or the safety of others in my home, then asking about proper gun storage or gun safety education would address that concern. Again, as a practical matter, I don’t see people who illegally own or misuse guns answering this questions truthfully. The form didn’t ask about lead paint, forgetting to lock doors, or jogging alone at night, yet all of those things could pose much greater safety problems than lawful gun ownership.
The privacy implication of this question also concern me. The answer to this form would become part of my medical records, and could be seen by many people over the coming years. While I enjoy guns and am proud to be a gun owner and gun rights supporter, I don’t want these facts known to the general public. There are many rabidly anti-gun people out there, and I don’t wish to suffer harm to my career or in my personal life. Nor do I wish for my home to become a specific target for a burglar who is looking to steal gun (even know my guns are locked in a safe when I’m not home).
Nor do I believe that I have any obligation to share with my doctor, or anyone else, information about my enjoyment of our constitutional rights. The doctor has no reason to know whom I voted for (1st, 12th, and 15th Amendments), what religion I believe or don’t believe in (1st Amendment), whether I would demand a jury trial if accused of some wrongdoing (7th Amendment), or whether I keep and bear arms (2nd Amendment).
Despite my disagreement with the existence of the question, it was a part of the form, and my answer would become part of my medical records. I had to fill out the form in order to receive the tetanus vaccine, and I had 3 options as to how to answer that question:
- Answer “Yes”. Doing so would disclose my gun ownership to this doctor, his staff, and anyone else who came upon my medical records. I would feel unhappy, as a matter of principle, for disclosing information that I believe to be private and unnecessary for the doctor to know in order to provide me with a tetanus shot. It could also lead to the doctor or his staff (wrongfully) having a negative impression of me, which could potentially have negative effects upon the qualify of care I would receive. On the plus side, there would be a potential opportunity to try and dispel negative myths about gun owners.
- Answer “No”. My privacy interests would be advanced, but I would lose an opportunity to demonstrate that law abiding, educated, and responsible individuals own guns.
- Ignore the question. Doing so would likely be tantamount to answering “Yes”, given the fact that I answered every other question on the form as the instructions requested. Worse yet, it could appear as though I were unsuccessfully trying to hide the truth.
I went with Option 2, and falsely answered “No” to the question of whether I owned a gun. I did so out of a desire to keep my private information private, and because I could see no nexus between a legitimate medical concern and this question. I also knew that I would feel annoyed with myself were I to answer a question that I had no obligation to answer and didn’t wish to answer (chock that up to law school).
This solution didn’t sit completely well with me, as I missed an opportunity to advance my interest in promoting gun rights and dispelling misconceptions about gun owners. So, I’m going to send an anonymous letter to the doctor’s office respectfully stating my disagreement with the question.
I’m particularly interested in hearing how other people would have handled this. As always, please feel free to leave a comment below.