Doctor probes teen on guns in the home

Boy's visit was for tonsil problem

In pro-gun-regulation Illinois — where politicians would rather play gun control politics than fight the murderous street gangs — a young man was admitted to the hospital.

Sam Insley, 16, of Oak Lawn, wasn't admitted with a gun problem.

Sam had a tonsil problem.

"It was an infected tonsil," Mary Rita Insley told me of her son Sam, a strapping, 6-foot-2-inch, 195-pound lacrosse player at St. Rita High School on the Southwest Side.

"Yes, he's a big kid, but regardless of his age and stature, my husband and I were with him the entire time he was there."

Sam was admitted to Advocate Hope Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn on Jan 4. A resident and two medical students began jotting down notes for a routine medical history. At one point, Mrs. Insley said, they asked her to step out of the room.

"I felt uneasy, but I stepped out so my son wouldn't be embarrassed," she told me, saying she figured they would ask drug and alcohol questions. Sam doesn't take drugs or alcohol, she said.

Later that day, Sam told her what the doctors had asked him.

"By the way, Mom," she recalled him saying, "when you were out of the room they asked me if we had any guns in the house."

Guns?

"Yes, it was none of their business," she said. "Where do they get off? I was furious.

"By the way, he answered 'no.' We don't have guns. But that's not the point. The point is that they use bureaucratic leverage to break down our privacy. And the last time I checked, I was an American."

Insley said she wasn't a gun rights crusader hoping to get her name in the paper. She said she was a mom who wanted to make sure other parents know what doctors are asking their children.

She said she would have understood a gun-related question if her son was being treated for mental or emotional issues. But he doesn't have those issues and has never been treated for them, she said.

"He wasn't there for psychiatric reasons," she said. "He wasn't suicidal. HE WAS THERE FOR AN INFECTED TONSIL!"

Insley knows I'm a hunter and that I have teenage sons of my own, and that I'm not a liberal journalist who hates on the Second Amendment.

I understand that the right to bear arms isn't a right granted us by the president, and that it's not only about hunting. It's about free Americans being able to resist a government that steps on their rights.

"Now, with all this gun control legislation (in Illinois), I'm angry for many reasons," she said. "Why are they asking about guns in the hospital? Are they mandated by Obamacare to do so? Can they ask a minor about guns without a parent in the room? I'm really upset."

Advocate spokesman Mike Maggio told us he couldn't discuss this case for privacy reasons, but that gun questions are "not part of our protocol. It is not routine in any way. And it's not a standard practice."

Later Tuesday, Insley said she received a telephone call from Dr. Mark Butterly, head of the hospital's pediatric residency program. She said Butterly told her that it is indeed standard practice.

I'd hoped to speak directly with Butterly and with the staff members about whether they asked gun questions of a tonsil patient. But Butterly and Advocate didn't return repeated email messages and phone calls asking for those interviews.

According to Insley, Butterly told her the staff began asking such questions in October. This apparently follows a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics published Oct. 18 recommending that pediatricians ask gun questions as part of patient history.

That October report cites firearms as one of the top three killers of American children and reasons that questions about availability of guns would allow medical staff to tell parents to keep guns out of their homes, or at least out of children's reach.

"Child health care professionals," the October report reads, "can and should provide effective leadership in efforts to prevent gun violence, injury and death."

No one should have unsecured guns in a home or anywhere else. We've seen too many stories of what happens when those rules aren't followed.

But Sam Insley was there for his tonsils.

Besides, the family doesn't have guns. But they do think they have rights as Americans against invasion of privacy.

"I went to the hospital because I had tonsillitis," Sam told us in an interview Tuesday evening. "I had to go in for an IV.

"Some of the questions had nothing to do with the sickness. They asked my mom to step out. They said, 'We have some questions to ask you. Some private questions,'" Sam recalled.

"They started off asking about grades — do you get good grades in school? Do you get bullied? And then they said, 'Do you have guns in the home?'"

Sam's reaction?

"I thought that was pretty out there, myself," Sam said. "The question about 'Do you have guns in the home?' That just stood out.

"Why did they need to know that? I'm in here because my tonsil is swollen and they're asking me if we own guns. I was confused and, in a way, kind of upset. Kind of like an invasion of privacy."

Mary Rita Insley, newly sensitized to gun issues, has since applied for a Firearm Owner's Identification Card. But here's what bothers her.

"If I purchase a gun, am I then supposed to train my children to lie for fear of the government knowing I have guns?" she asked.

She could have asked another question: Is Illinois part of the United States?

I'm glad she didn't. I wouldn't know what to tell her.

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass

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