State Medical Board votes to allow its investigators to carry guns

by Chad D. Baus

The Columbus Dispatch reported recently that the State Medical Board, responsible for licensing and disciplining physicians, has voted to allow its investigators can carry guns.

From the article:

The board agreed unanimously today that the 20 state investigators have a right to protect themselves against threats on the job.

Safety has become a larger concern as investigations of outlaw pain-pill practices have been stepped up in recent months, said Executive Director Richard Whitehouse.

"This is not something that anyone is particularly excited about," he said after the vote, adding that guns would be for worst-case scenarios only.

Medical Board investigators have not been seriously injured on the job, nor have they been shot at, Whitehouse said. But it has become more common for them to encounter people who are armed at practices they're investigating.

"The boots on the ground are all saying that this is something they need," Whitehouse said.

Many, if not all, of the agencies that work with the board on investigations, including the State Pharmacy Board, already allow their staff members to carry guns, said Joan Wehrle, executive staff coordinator for the Medical Board.

"It's only for self-defense," she said.

In an Associated Press article written prior to the vote, some of the usual suspects express "concerns" about the investigators being allowed their right to self-defense:

"We would have some pretty serious concerns about having medical board investigators carry firearms and go into medical practices," said Jason Koma, a spokesman for the Ohio State Medical Association, which represents physicians.

...A similar concern was raised by the executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, Toby Hoover. She wondered what would happen if a hospital under investigation had a sign prohibiting concealed weapons.

The AP noted that the board isn't the only Ohio agency that arms its employees.

The attorney general's office has a number of units involved in law enforcement, including the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation. As the armed personnel are all peace officers, they are legally allowed to carry firearms.

The auditor's office recently obtained permission to arm four of its investigators.

Perhaps the most similar to the medical board would be Ohio's State Board of Pharmacy, which handles drug enforcement, including criminal investigations. Some of its agents are sworn peace officers, and they're allowed to carry guns as part of an authorized criminal investigation, executive director Bill Winsley said.

The Federation of State Medical Boards told the AP that it does not track which boards arm their employees, but CEO Dr. Humayun Chaudhry said it's not an unusual practice.

Ohio's medical board says now that the decision has been made, it plans to come up with rules, guidelines and training for investigators to carry weapons.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.

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