Health Team

Doctors wary of role in gun rights debate

Posted April 24, 2013
Updated April 25, 2013

A North Carolina permit to carry a concealed handgun requires proof that the carrier is physically and mentally fit.

— Recent mass shootings such as the one in Newtown, Conn., have increased interest in the gun permit process. One angle not widely reported is the role of the family doctor.

They are the ones sheriff's departments turn to for information about a person's mental or physical competence, especially when someone applies for a concealed carry permit.
As requests for those permits have increased, some physicians find themselves unprepared for such a responsibility.

The law varies from state to state. In North Carolina, those who apply for a permit to carry a concealed weapon must prove mental or physical competence. To get that proof, a sheriff's department may place a call to the applicant's personal physician.

"One of the real problems which we really found is there really are no standards by which physicians can assess the safety and how that relates to physical conditions and psychological conditions," said Dr. Adam Goldstein, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Dr. Adam Goldstein Gun laws put docs in tough spot

Goldstein authored an article in the New England Journal of Medicine based on discussions with other physicians. He said doctors worry about protecting themselves and their patients. They don't want to compromise patient confidentiality or limits on what they can legally release.

Even if physicians don't want to get involved with making judgments on their patient's competency to carry a gun, Goldstein says that's no longer an option.

"Are we going to do it responsibly and ethically and according to the laws and the best standards? That's what we in medicine really try to do," he said.

Doctors are routinely involved in other judgments. They are asked to offer an opinion on whether a patient is competent to drive or whether a patient can safely participate in sports.

"Those particular examples do have established standards by which doctors can make those decisions. With the question of competency to carry a gun, there are no standards," said WRAL's Dr. Allen Mask.

"Without some standards in place, without special training in how to make these judgments, Dr. Goldstein fears that some doctors may use their personal opinions on guns rather than making that decision based on safety standards," Mask said.

"That's why he's in favor of physicians, physician organizations, public health experts and law enforcement groups getting together to iron out these questions and develop a training program."


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  • dollibug Apr 29, 2013

    NC allows *self initiated warrants* where anyone at anytime can go into a NC Magistrate's Office and provide info about another person to get the person charged with any sort of crime....they can do this *WITHOUT ANY PROOF WHATSOEVER*....just their word that someone did it and this can start the *WHEELS OF JUSTICE* spinning slap out of control. Our JUDICIAL SYSTEM is not trained to deal with *INNOCENT PEOPLE* who have done nothing. There are many issues which the NC GENERAL ASSEMBLY needs to address....anyone's *opinion* is just is not a fact....but only an opinion. Perhaps *common sense* needs to be addressed with *laws* and a thorough investigation of what is being addressed with whatever is being *assumed* I think we all know what happens when things are assumed.

  • proudmuslimexchristian Apr 26, 2013

    I stand for the 2nd amendment and as a proud Muslim American, I can happily state that I bought 5 guns this past month as well as ammunition. Go USA.

  • jpd9930 Apr 26, 2013

    well I'm sure that's very reassuring to those that are shot. Fact is that the gun crime rate of the US is about fifty times that of the UK and this results in a murder rate 4X as high whilst other crime rates are much the same. GU

    The UK is labeled by the EU as the most violent country of them all. Per Capita GB is far more dangerous than the US...SO GU, how do they murder each other in GB?

  • Pretzel Logic Apr 26, 2013

    RE : Why not? who better to decide that?

    What,,, Who Better to Decide???

    Did you really say that out load?

    You are really off your onion this time...

    What make Doctors any better than other humans???

    How would you guarantee their sanity???

    They are just as capable of evil as any other...

    Doctors always exercise the best judgment?

    Doctors never drive drunk and kill people?

    Doctors never molest their patients?

    Doctors never abuse prescription drugs?

    Doctors never snort cocaine?

    Doctors never smoke crack?

    Doctors never suffer mental issues?

    Doctors never commit malpractice?

    Yada, Yada, Yada, Blah, Blah, Blah, Rubbish, Dribble, Drool,,,

  • Ouiser Apr 26, 2013

    'Fact is that the gun crime rate of the US is about fifty times that of the UK'

    62,641,000 - 2011
    Source: World Bank

    313,914,040 - Jul 2012
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau

  • Lightfoot3 Apr 26, 2013

    "well I'm sure that's very reassuring to those that are shot" - Grand Union

    Huh? Is it reassuring to plane crash victims that most planes don't crash?

    "Fact is that the gun crime rate of the US is about fifty times that of the UK" - Grand Union

    So? You're already told us that guns never were part of the crime equation in the UK and the UK bans were knee-j*** reactions to a couple of shootings. While it could turn out that it is the guns here that are the problem, comparisons to the UK are invalid and don't prove the point.

  • Lightfoot3 Apr 26, 2013

    "I suggested some sort of screening by a trained mental health professional who knows what to look for" - tarheelbythesea

    That doesn't sound too bad. I'm even okay with asking personal doctors about mental health, with very specific questions (i.e. those things to look for). But I don't want questions like, "Should Mr. Anderson be allowed to have a gun" being asked of personal doctors because of the potential for bias and political agenda, not to mention irrational thought, influencing the answer.

  • Lightfoot3 Apr 26, 2013

    "Why not?" - Grand Union

    Because the doctor might be anti-gun, have a political agenda, or be totally irrational on the issue, like you. The mere desire to have a gun for protection could get us labeled as "paranoid" (like you've falsely claimed) and thus not stable enough for a gun.

    "who better to decide that?" - Grand Union

    On mental health? Perhaps the doctor, as long as it's not tied to the gun issue. But if the doctor decides directly, there's room for too much subjective bias and agenda.

  • tarheelbythesea Apr 25, 2013

    At this point it seems clear that there is a subgroup of gun owners who really don't want anything at all done to even try to prevent the violence. For months their mantra has been "Mental health! Mental health!", yet now that the discussion has turned to that very issue, they are opposed to any attempt to identify those with violent mental health issues to try to limit their access to guns. Earlier today I asked a simple question: What DO you think is a reasonable way to screen for these people who are risks if you don't trust a doctor to do it? No one responded. I suggested some sort of screening by a trained mental health professional who knows what to look for, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess the same people who don't trust physicians aren't going to trust psychologists either. And heaven forbid any of these professionals be allowed to gather info to be used for research purposes to try to determine how to best deal with these issues.

  • robbyh Apr 25, 2013

    Grand Union, Want to see what a real crazy man does with a gun ,come try to hurt my family, thats the only reason i have mine. Other than target pratice thats the only time it would get used.