A pending gun bill in the state House has several bad provisions. One stands out.

It’s titled “Preserving firearms privacy for patients,” but what it really does is gag doctors. A physician would be restricted in how he could communicate with and about patients regarding firearms.

The North Carolina Medical Society opposes the measure. “Asking their patients about firearms (is) a common safety screening question for pediatricians and family physicians,” it says.

The society “opposes any legislation restricting physicians’ ability to communicate with a patient on important matters involving health and risks to their health, and especially the health of children. Doctors routinely speak with their patients about potential health threats, including dangerous chemicals, car seats, water safety, tobacco and guns.”

The bill’s sponsors reject that prescription, at least as it applies to guns. “Health care providers do not need to know whether a patient lawfully possesses or uses firearms and ammunition,” the bill says, “unless the patient specifically exhibits symptoms of illness or injury that the health care provider could reasonably attribute to the possession or use of firearms and ammunition or has expressed a desire to harm self or others.”

Some proponents put it more bluntly: Doctors should mind their own business.

Health and safety are their business. A patient can exhibit signs indicating a risk for suicide or aggression without explicitly expressing a desire to harm himself or others. While the bill does not directly prohibit doctors from asking about a patient’s access to guns, it prevents them from informing police. Imagine a psychiatrist examining someone like Seung-Hui Cho, the 2007 Virginia Tech mass-murderer, finding him in a troubled state of mind, learning he has firearms, but being barred from telling police because of Cho’s right to “firearms privacy.”

Because of physicians’ free-speech rights, this measure should not survive a legal challenge. But it demonstrates how completely many state legislators have surrendered to the gun mania afflicting the country.

The bill has other unsound provisions. It would:

• Weaken criminal background checks.

• Further restrict the ability of local governments to regulate gun sales.

• Clarify that concealed carry permit holders could keep firearms inside their vehicles on private property, even if the property owners otherwise prohibit firearms on their premises.

• Prohibit a local government that enacts a noise ordinance from applying the ordinance to an existing shooting range.

In the last four years, North Carolina already has enacted many permissive gun laws. There haven’t been terrible consequences as a result, but further loosening of laws is unwarranted.

Guns are a part of our culture, for better and for worse. Gun ownership has never been threatened in North Carolina. But guns are dangerous in the wrong hands. Physicians can help determine whose hands.

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