Doctors may not make a habit of following the Supreme Court, but a decision handed down this week has the potential to affect the well-being of their patients, a UCLA law professor and physician warns in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The case in question is McDonald vs. Chicago. In a 5-4 decision, the justices said that states and cities may not abridge the 2nd Amendment right of people to keep handguns in their homes for self-defense.
The plaintiff in the case, Otis McDonald, wanted a gun to protect himself from the drug dealers and other assorted thugs that had taken over his neighborhood and broken into his home. But the gun he seeks “may just increase the risks of homicide, suicide, and accidental injury and death of those who live in or, like his grandchildren, visit his home,” writes Dr. Julie Cantor, whose scholarship focuses on the intersection of health, law and ethics.
Cantor points out that gun violence causes more than 30,000 deaths and 60,000 injuries each year, making it a leading public health problem. Studies have shown that the mere presence of a handgun substantially raises the risk of homicide and suicide, with abused women being particularly vulnerable.
“To the extent that McDonald means more handguns, physicians have reason to be concerned,” she writes. One of her suggestions: “Physicians should remain vigilant and address gun issues, such as access and storage, with patients, especially those who may be suicidal, have survived domestic violence or live with children.”
-- Karen Kaplan
Photo: A legal expert with a medical degree warns that handguns may be hazardous to your health. Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski / EPA