guns in the house

During wellness visits I used to ask, “Do you have guns in the house?” in the safety/accident prevention part of the visit. Along with helmets, seat belts, smoke alarms and not driving under the influence.

As a Family Practice Board Certified Physician, I counsel patients. Family Practice is a specialty, just as internal medicine and general surgeon are specialties. A three year residency training after medical school and I retake the Boards every 10 years. I counsel patients in “annual exams” or “medicare wellness” visits.

A patient reported me to the state board because of that question. I then got a letter from the state board saying that I was being investigated but not why. Later I got a letter saying that the patient had complained that I had asked about guns. The state replied that in fact, I am supposed to counsel patients about gun safety.

I changed my counseling. Now I say: “If you have guns in the house, I am to counsel you to keep them locked up with the ammunition locked up separately.”

I get three responses:

1. “My guns are in a gun safe, locked at all times, with the ammunition locked.”

2. “I don’t have any guns!”

3. Silence.

It is the silent ones that worry me.

I did not change my counseling because I was reported to the state and the state did not tell me to change it. I changed it in hope that someone who keeps their guns unlocked and loaded, in the bedside table, under their pillow, up in a closet, or where ever, will think about it. The question “Do you have guns in the house?” is too loaded for those people.

I met a woman with an impressive star shaped radiating scar on her chest. Her boyfriend kept a loaded gun under his pillow. One night she was returning from the bathroom. He shot her in the chest.

They are not together any more.

When my son went to preschool, over 20 years ago, I counseled him. “If another child says they can show you a gun or they have a gun, say that you have to go to the bathroom. Go and tell an adult right away. People can get killed.”

He reported an overheard conversation in preschool between two other boys. One said that he knew where his parents kept a gun. The two boys were planning to leave the school to go look at the gun. I called the preschool. They already knew about it and had talked to both boys’ parents. I don’t know if the parents locked the guns up.

In Portland one of my neighbors chased his upstairs neighbor into the street one day during rush hour, stark naked, trying to hit the upstairs neighber with a 5 iron. Yes, a golf club. I am very glad the downstairs neighbor did not have a gun right then, because he would have used it. Any of us could have been killed. And later the SWAT team was called to deal with him: he did have a gun that time. He threatened to shoot himself in the head. Then he did: well, except he only creased himself. He went to involuntary psychiatry, supposedly for six months. He was back in three months. The neighborhood was very very nervous. The house next door was sold and he disappeared and we were all relieved. He was strong, completely illogical and terrifying. We discussed how to deal with him but mostly we hid.

When he chased the neighbor into the street, I had already called 911 because I heard screaming next door. My voice shook. The dispatcher said, “Yes, we know the address, we’ve had three calls and they are on their way.” The traffic stopped dead at the sight of a nude man chasing another man with a 5 iron. I unbolted my door and stuck my head out. “(C—-)! Up here!” The upstairs neighbor ran up my steps and into my house. I slammed the door and bolted it and crouched by the front window with a baseball bat, ready to hit the downstairs neighbor as hard as I could if he came through my front window.

He didn’t. The police arrived. The whole thing was over the upstairs neighbor “playing music too loud” and “not turning it down enough”. The downstairs neighbor had broken down the upstairs neighbor’s door with the five iron. The upstairs neighbor had tried to defend himself with a butter knife and then ran. The police explained to the downstairs neighbor as he was arrested that if someone breaks your door down, it is not assault to defend yourself with a butter knife.

We discussed which illegal drugs we thought he was on. This was in the 1990s, so we thought it was crack. There was a big article soon after that about a crack house. We said, whew, glad we aren’t those neighbors and then realized that it was within two blocks of our house. Great.

Drugs and alcohol and guns and anger and grief….. it is a toxic mix.

Please, lock your guns.

16 thoughts on “guns in the house

  1. […] Most recently, though, I found myself interested in her take on guns as a public health issue. Her analysis is […]

  2. cwaugh212 says:

    I hate to rain on your parade, but I must disagree. Suppose you are in your bed, sound asleep, and you are suddenly awakened by your alarm going off. An intruder is in the house and the intruder is armed. Not only is s(he) armed, but s(he) is high on drugs and looking to do harm. What good is the locked gun in the gun safe?

    I choose to be prepared to defend myself and my wife. There are no children in the house. When grandchildren come to visit, the gun goes in the safe. When they leave, it comes back out. I am a responsible gun owner, trained in the use of firearms since I was a Boy Scout in the 1960’s. I have a concealed carry permit and I am prepared to hopefully never discharge my weapon.

    Thanks for listening to someone with an opposing view.

    • drkottaway says:

      mmm, I am going to ask a friend to do a guest post…..I’m not sure what you are disagreeing with… you are agreeing that guns should be locked when there are children around. You are a trained and responsible gun owner. The counseling is to encourage responsible gun ownership: how would you change it?

    • drkottaway says:

      I do not ask if people have guns because some people think I am recording it for … well, the government. I think a data base could do that but that is not set up as something reported: the focus is on cancer screening and whether we have at least discussed immunizations even if people refuse them.

  3. keebslac1234 says:

    It’s a real indictment that guns in homes have become a public health concern. But, increasingly, that’s the way the whole issue is headed. No guns in this household, but we’ve become increasingly wary as they proliferate everywhere else.

  4. HesterLeyNel says:

    Shew, what an experience.

    • drkottaway says:

      I was in residency and our son was two.

      • HesterLeyNel says:

        We have a very high rate of violent crimes in South Africa and we are very security conscious, but unfortunately a life is not worth much to the perpetrators. It is all too easy to get hold of guns and knifes and to resort to violence. Such a pity in a wonderful country like this … anywhere, in fact.

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