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The Daily Tar Heel

Triangle doctors question their role in concealed weapons assessments

In response to requests regarding concealed-weapons permits, professionals in the Triangle are discussing the role of doctors in gun policy.

An article published April 17 in The New England Journal of Medicine addressed the challenges doctors face when engaged in the debate on the responsibilities of gun ownership.

After the December shooting in Newtown, Conn., two area doctors received letters from law enforcement asking them to determine whether certain individuals should be allowed to possess concealed-weapons permits.

Adam Goldstein, co-author of the article and a professor in UNC’s Department of Family Medicine, said the inquiries prompted him and others to begin writing the article, which expressed their misgivings about making these decisions.

Goldstein said the possibility of doctors being involved in this process raised several questions, including the fact that there are no standards available as a basis on which doctors can make these determinations.

“One of our concerns was that when we saw these requests, we recognized that physicians had no training on this issue and that no standards exist in guiding us in making this assessment,” he said.

Dr. Kathleen Barnhouse, co-author of the article from UNC’s Department of Family Medicine, said she received one of the requests.

“I’ve been practicing on my own for 10 years now, and this is the first time I’ve actually gotten letters like this from sheriff departments,” she said.

Dr. Anthony Viera, from UNC’s Department of Family Medicine, along with Dr. James Tulsky from Duke University’s School of Medicine and Barak Richman from Duke University’s School of Law, are also co-authors of the article.

In the article, the authors compared approving someone for a concealed-weapons permit to approving someone for a commercial driver’s license — but for the weapons permit, no guidelines exist.

“When we, for instance, assess someone’s safety to drive a commercial vehicle in the Department of Transportation, that patient gets sent in for a Department of Transportation physical,” Goldstein said. “We have a detailed checklist.”

But Grant Anastas-King, president of the Tar Heel Rifle and Pistol Club, said he found this to be a poor comparison.

“A much more apt comparison would be getting a driver’s license,” he said, adding that a concealed-weapons permit, like a driver’s license, does not require extra requirements.

Goldstein said the role of doctors in shaping gun policy goes beyond approving these permits.

“I think physicians have multiple roles in violence related to gun prevention, and that ranges from counseling patients about gun safety and being involved in assessing safety for concealed-weapons permits and advocating for legislative changes that will reduce gun deaths,” he said.

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