Special interest groups are no longer relying on the corporate control of the mass media, alone, in order to limit and control public dialogue, question-asking, curiosity, inquiry and information sharing. Now, they are also securing passage of laws that make it a crime to share certain kinds of information, raise questions and stimulate thought and dialogue, even in the interest of human life. Some of the same people who shout “pro-life” when they really mean to prevent any abortion are not only seemingly unconcerned with the well-documented dangers that household firearms pose to life–to our children, and to the children of our neighbors, relatives and household guests–but they wish to make certain that the mere discussion of these dangers is a crime. This made me even more curious. I’ve recently learned that about 40% of US households with children have guns, and in 2005, “The overall firearm-related death rate among U.S. children aged less than 15 years was nearly 12 times higher than among children in 25 other industrialized countries combined.” (Yes that’s 12 times higher than all of the other countries combined.)[ http://www.kidsandguns.org/study/fact_file.asp ]
We’re not talking about the National Rifle Association lobbying for the right to have
guns in one’s home. We’re talking about a law recently passed by the Florida legislature, soon to be signed by their Governor, that will make it a felony for pediatricians to ask questions and engage parents of their child patients in discussions about the dangers posed by household firearms and the steps that need to be taken to insure the safety of children in their home—their own children and the children who may visit or play with them [see for example: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/05/10/florida-outlaws-asking-patients-guns-awaits-governors-signature/ . . . yes–even Fox News verifies that this law is about to be passed . . . and http://thinkprogress.org/2011/05/10/florida-gun-doctors-bill/ ]
Over the years, I’ve learned that in many societies and communities throughout history adults have naturally assumed responsibility for the care, welfare, education and safety of all children–in at least their immediate village, neighborhood or community. Unfortunately and by contrast, it has become increasingly evident, through our funding priorities among other trends, that many of the most powerful and affluent people in our society are no longer concerned with the education, safety and well-being of “other people’s” children. Why have good public schools if you have the money to send your child to a good, well-funded private school; and anyway, when there is a critical mass of well-educated people, this leads to asking questions, to promoting curiosity, dialogue, and even dissent—as apparently has been demonstrated by the conscientious, socially responsible pediatricians and health care workers in Florida. These health care professionals see it as their ethical duty to inform and educate parents about various precautions to take on behalf of their children—for example, pertaining to the need for car safety seats and bike helmets, and to the risks of unsupervised swimming pools and firearms, among others. So, should a powerful swimming pool lobby now seek legislation to prevent doctors from alerting parents as to the circumstances under which
children all too often tragically drown in home swimming pools?
It’s bad enough that this is happening in Florida, but I’m concerned that we may be witnessing a more sinister national trend to thwart curiosity, dialogue, and inquisitiveness. Now, reportedly, there are efforts to pass a similar law in Alabama. Furthermore, these laws are not simply about the battle between the NRA and the advocates of the “right to bear arms” on the one hand, and gun control activists, on the other hand. We may be now witnessing an intensification and diversification of the strategies of mass control. Increasingly, those who are fearful and/or powerful are using every means at their disposal—including, but not limited to, corporate control of mass media, the de-funding of education, and now, legislation by elected officials to silence and thwart dissent, curiosity, question-asking and public dialogue. Even in the face of this new, insidious challenge to our free speech, to free and open inquiry and dialogue, I will try to act out of curiosity, inquisitiveness, determination, and empathy, rather than with fear and hate. As responsible pediatricians know, if we stick our heads in the sand, we become vulnerable to tragedy—but not just in the care of our children in our homes, but in the “bigger picture”, in many different ways, throughout our country and the world.