On Fox News, Doctors Asking Children About Gun Safety Is Controversial

Shannon Bream

In keeping with right-wing media's recent smears of President Obama's surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy as “anti-gun,” Fox News framed Murthy's support for “allowing doctors to ask children if their parents keep guns in their homes” as a controversial position. However, doctors discussing gun safety with patients is a responsible, common sense practice that is protected by the First Amendment. 

On the March 18 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, Shannon Bream reported that “critics” of Murthy's nomination are “worried” by the physician's “support for things like allowing doctors to ask children if their parents keep guns in their homes”:

BREAM: Well Murthy is well known for his support of Obamacare but his critics say they're most worried about his advocacy for tougher gun laws and his support for things like allowing doctors to ask children if their parents keep guns in their homes.


And given those Second Amendment concerns, once the NRA announced it would score the vote, meaning it would keep track of and publicly talk about how the Senators voted on that Murthy nomination, a number of those moderate democrats -- a number of them in red states up for re-election this fall there started to be chatter that they too would not support this particular nominee.

But Dr. Murthy's gun safety objectives are not controversial and are, in fact, common sense concerns in line with those of many public health organizations, including (but not limited to) the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the National Physicians Alliance.

According to Dr. Sanjeev Sriram, a pediatrician and member of the National Physicians Alliance, encouraging physicians to ask young patients whether there is a gun in their parents' home is a “common sense” “responsible standard of practice” -- with the objective of finding out about safe gun storage. As Sriram noted in a March 18 posting at Huffington Post, asking patients about guns makes sense given the fact that 89 percent of unintentional shooting deaths of children occur in the home, and the risk that an individual is murdered in a domestic abuse case is 8 times more likely when a gun is kept in the home. 

And unlike the implication created by Fox, doctors don't need to ask permission to discuss gun safety with patients. Doctors are protected under the First Amendment from laws that would restrict their freedom of speech to discuss gun safety; a principle exemplified by the ruling in a 2011 federal court case that invalidated a Florida law that barred doctors from asking patients about gun ownership. After Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the controversial measure into law, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence along with physicians' groups sued. In 2011, a United States district court issued a temporary injunction against the law, ruling, “A practitioner who counsels a patient on firearm safety, even when entirely irrelevant to medical care or safety, does not affect or interfere with the patient's right to continue to own, possess or use firearms.” In 2012, the injunction became permanent with a ruling that the law violated the First Amendment

In their crusade to sink Murthy's nomination, Fox News continues to misleadingly represent common medical views as “anti-gun” all while overlooking the startling number of people killed due to gun violence, and the even more startling number of children killed in homes by guns.

To find out the truth behind other gun violence falsehoods, visit Media Matters' Mythopedia project.