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SC Lawmakers Look To Make It Illegal For Doctors To Ask About Guns

flickr/Gregory Wild-Smith

Fifty-five South Carolina lawmakers have signed on to legislation that would prohibit health care providers from asking patients about gun ownership. 

At issue is confusion around what is in the Affordable Care Act.

There is a provision that says patients don't have to disclose information about gun ownership to medical providers. After the Newtown, Connecticut shootings, President Obama said there's nothing in the act that prohibits those conversations from happening.

So now Republican Representative Joshua Putnam wants to make sure those conversations don't happen in South Carolina. He's the lead sponsor of a bill that he says is just a precaution.

"The Affordable Care Act is so large and lawmakers aren't quite sure what's in it yet," Putnam says. "And so we just want to make sure we safeguard and put safeguards to protect the rights and the privacy of our citizens and the physicians."

The bill would make it illegal for health care providers to ask patients about guns they might own. The exception would be if the doctor is treating patients for a gun-related injury, mental health illness or discussing a case of abuse or neglect.

The head of the South Carolina chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is fighting the bill. Dr. Deborah Greenhouse says she's been talking to her patients about gun ownership since two of her patients were killed in accidental shootings at their home.

"A six-year-old may get shot, or shoot himself or shoot somebody else in his friend's house as much as his own house," Greenhouse says. "So I'm going to talk about it whether or not they own a gun. I'm not going to document whether they do or what type of gun they have because frankly I don't care. I care that the child is safe."

Representative Putnam says there will be an amendment that allows providers to advise parents and patients on responsible gun ownership. But Greenhouse says that's not enough.

"This is a freedom of speech issue," Greenhouse says. "Today it's guns, tomorrow it may be whether I'm allowed to talk to children about whether they smoke or whether I'm allowed to talk to teenagers about sexually transmitted diseases. It's a slippery slope."    

The bill is now under review in the House judiciary committee.