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Have you talked with your doctor about gun control?

In 2014, Washington voters passed I-594 requiring background checks for gun sales. (AP)
LISTEN: Doctor promotes that physicians talk to patients about guns

Doctors get to know patients on a personal level. What you eat. If you are really are going to the gym as much as you say. Why not tell them about your guns?

RELATED: How Seattle is using extreme risk protection orders

“It varies with the circumstances,” Dr. Garen Wintemute told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “For me, as an ER doc, often the conversation is with someone I’m talking with who is in the department because they are suicidal. Obviously, I am going to approach the issue fairly directly. I don’t recommend that doctors routinely ask (if patients have guns). The question would be, ‘Do you have access to firearms in and around your home?’ Something like that.”

“It’s a question to be asked when it is directly relevant,” he said. “If the person is depressed and drinking. Or if the patient is a young child, I would ask the parents. If I am seeing a woman whose partner is being violent. There are a number of circumstances where it is directly relevant. Even in those circumstances, we doctors don’t traditionally do a good job of asking. That is the change we are asking.”

Wintemute is pushing for doctors ask about guns, just like they ask about diet or smoking habits. He studies gun violence issues as director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis.

New gun control laws

With new gun control laws in Washington and his home state of California, Wintemute says the gun question has a firm foundation.

“We call it a gun violence restraining order (in California), in Washington you call it an extreme risk protection order,” Wintemute said. “But in both states, I, as a physician, can talk to family or talk to law enforcement and they, in turn, can go to a judge. Just as with domestic violence. They can ask for a restraining order.”

“They have to make the case to a judge that, ‘Your honor there is a problem here. No crime has been committed so we can’t arrest the person. They are not acutely suicidal, so they do not need to be in the hospital. But it seems clear that risk is very high in the near term and firearms are part of the problem.’”

Police in Marysville, Wash. say they recently prevented a possible “Vegas-style” massacre after they issued their first ERPO. California has had similar experiences.

“I know for a fact that gun violence restraining orders have been used here to prevent at least two mass shootings – two that I know of from the records we have so far,” Wintemute said. “In both cases, the people involved made credible threats. They did not own guns, but they had just purchased guns. The would-be terrorists purchased an AR-15. But we here in California have a 10-day waiting period. So during the waiting period, before the guns were acquired, the order was petitioned for, issued, and served. The purchases were blocked and those two shootings did not occur.”

“It’s really simple,” he said. “You cannot commit a gun crime if you do not have a gun to commit it with.”

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