6-year-olds want to play with guns, Columbia doctor warns
Deborah Greenhouse wants you to know what her lane is.
The Columbia pediatrician is one of several doctors joining a social media storm over guns and doctors, sparking a fight between the physicians and the National Rifle Association.
“Asked a 6 year old today what he would do if he found a gun while playing at a friend’s house,” Greenhouse tweeted Nov. 9. “He said he’d grab it and play with it. His mom was shocked. I wasn’t. It was the most important thing I talked about at his well (care) visit.”
Greenhouse is one of several doctors using the hashtag #ThisIsOurLane to talk about gun safety and the dangers that firearms can pose to the health of their patients. The movement started after the NRA, a national gun-rights organization, tweeted, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.”
The NRA’s tweet came in response to updated gun-safety guidelines from the American College of Physicians, urging doctors to ask their patients whether they have guns in their homes and to warn them about potential risks. The NRA has pushed back against doctors asking questions about guns, saying it could infringe on Second Amendment rights.
Several doctors reacted negatively to the NRA’s tweet, which came out the same day as a mass shooting in a California bar that killed 12.
Greenhouse’s response caught the attention of National Public Radio, where it was featured Tuesday on the news talk show “The Takeaway.”
ouse gun tweet1
“They reached out to me on Twitter and asked me to do a voice recording,” Greenhouse said Thursday, between seeing patients at Palmetto Pediatric. “I did it the night before it aired.”
The pediatrician argues studies have shown young children are likely to play with firearms if they can get their hands on them, even if they have been told not to. Greenhouse advises her patients’ families to securely lock up their guns and keep the ammunition in a separate location.
“We live in South Carolina. Many of my patients own guns, and I have no problem with that, as long as they are stored safely,” she said.
But Little Mountain gun instructor Gerald Stoudemire is uncomfortable hearing questions about guns from a doctor. The head of Gun Owners of South Carolina, which is affiliated with the NRA, Stoudemire recalls a time his longtime family doctor asked him if he owned guns.
“I’ve known him as long as we’ve been around,” Stoudemire said. “I went to high school with him. We played sports together. I went hunting with his father.
“I told him that had nothing to do with my medical problems, and if he needs to know it to treat me, he knows the answer.”
The next time he went in for a check-up, there were no gun questions, Stoudemire said.
Stoudemire doesn’t think doctors have the training or understanding to recommend gun-safety measures, adding he makes sure the people he trains know how to keep their guns secure. He also makes sure his own guns stay out of the reach of children, even though he has taught his own children and grandchildren how to handle firearms.
“Unauthorized people don’t need access to your guns, whether they are untrained children, people with mental issues or a criminal background, or somebody breaking in your house,” he said.
“My guns, when they’re not on me, they’re in locked safes,” Stoudemire said. “Not a cabinet, a safe.”
Greenhouse agrees with those safety measures.
In her more than 20 years in pediatrics, she has had two young patients die from firearm injuries, including an 11-year-old South Carolina boy.
“He had bounced around from foster home to foster home, and he had finally got to a good home,” Greenhouse remembers. “And, then, he was shot in the heart from close range by a BB gun.”
Greenhouse’s activism on the issue dates to 2010, when S.C. lawmakers introduced a bill that would have prevented doctors from discussing firearms with their patients. The bill was modeled on a Florida law, which since has been struck down for violating the free-speech rights of doctors.
“I’ve never encountered a family that had a problem with me discussing it,” Greenhouse said. “But they don’t have to follow my advice.”
She says, regardless of how the NRA feels about the issue, she intends to keep raising the issue with the families she serves because she thinks it is a necessary conversation to ensure their children are safe.
“This is why we’re here,” she said. “This is why we do this every day.”