Considering NY’s Red Flag Gun Safety Law, How Can Physicians Support Patients & Their Families?
Updated: Feb 6, 2020
This question and answer was printed in the Monroe County Medical Society November-December 2019 Bulletin.
New York’s Red Flag gun safety law became effective August 24, 2019. The law establishes a new procedure that allows a concerned family and household member, school official or law enforcement officer – but not physicians or other licensed clinicians – to obtain a court order, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Order, to remove and keep guns away from individuals who pose a serious risk of harm to themselves or others. This court order specifically prohibits the individual from purchasing or possessing a firearm, rifle or shotgun while the order is in effect.
Firearm safety is considered a public health issue. New York law does not preclude physicians from talking to patients about firearm ownership and safety. In fact, because patients trust their physicians to advise them on issues that affect their health, physicians play an important role in intervening with patients who risk injuring themselves or others with firearms. Through patient encounters, physicians have an opportunity to educate about safe storage of firearms, household risk factors, and minor’s access to firearms, and how to mitigate those risks.
When confronted with a parent who is concerned that a minor, or loved one, is at risk of violence, suicide, or injury by firearm a physician can discuss firearm safety, including safe storage. Counseling efforts by physicians have been shown to have a significant positive effect on the firearm storage habits of their patients. Depending on the facts and circumstances, a physician may recommend counseling or mental health treatment. Lastly, physicians can refer parents to Red Flag gun law safety information. The New York State Unified Court System’s website includes the information and forms necessary to apply for an Extreme Risk Protection Order (https://ww2.nycourts.gov/erpo).
There are a variety of clinical scenarios that may arise in discussing firearms with patients. Conversations with physicians are important, especially with high-risk patients. For additional information regarding firearm safety, including patient privacy implications and reporting obligations, contact your attorney.
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