Privacy Laws and Doctors' Rights to Report Your Firearm Possession

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 23,000 people in America were killed in gun suicides in 2016. This accounted for nearly 60 percent of all gun deaths in that year. Veterans who have mental illnesses are at particular risk for firearm suicide.

If you're a veteran seeing a doctor for a mental health issue such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you may be concerned about whether they can ask you about gun possession. This ongoing topic of discussion continues to weigh public safety against an individual's right to privacy, even if that person suffers with PTSD or some other mental health condition.

What Can a Doctor Ask?

In the past, some states explored laws that protected patient privacy by limiting what a doctor was allowed to ask patients about their gun ownership. In 2006, Virginia and West Virginia were two of the first states to propose laws that would forbid gun inquiry by doctors, but these laws didn't pass. In 2011, a Florida law—"Docs vs. Glocks"—restricted doctors from being able to ask patients questions about their gun possession. However, a federal appeals court overturned this law in 2017.

What a doctor can say about mental illness and gun ownershipIf the doctor feels the question has relevance to the patient's health, it's considered legal. Most health care providers typically ask questions that are in the best interest of the health of the patient and might include:

  • If the patient owns or has access to a gun
  • If anyone in the house or anyone else has access to that weapon
  • If the patient has the firearm safely stored

If a physician digs deeper, it's likely because they've identified the patient to be at a higher risk of violence or self-harm. This can include someone who has a history of domestic violence, alcohol or substance use disorder, or mental illness.

The doctor is allowed to write down patient answers in the medical file, but federal law prohibits sharing any of their personal information or data. However, if the physician discovers information they believe suggests the patient might put themself or some other person in danger, the health provider has the right to contact the individual's family, law enforcement, or mental health professionals.

If You're Concerned, Contact Cuddigan Law

If you're a veteran worried about losing your right to own a gun due to a PTSD diagnosis, or you'd like a free evaluation of your disability case, call Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys will answer your questions and ensure that you have accurate information about your gun rights and your mental health diagnosis.

We understand that PTSD is a debilitating mental condition that can severely and negatively impact a veteran's life, but we also know the law about gun possession. Our attorneys have supported veterans for years, and we'll carefully examine your case and advise you on your rights. Call us today, and you'll speak to an intake specialist for free.

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