As we approach the Newtown anniversary everyone’s going to weigh in with their thoughts about gun control, so here’s mine. I believe the NRA is more right than wrong in questioning the motives of many of the proponents of more gun control. They are correct when they say that just about all gun owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens who don’t need to jump through yet more legal hoops in order to buy or own guns.
At the same time, the NRA should stop diluting the force of their argument and keep their nose out of places where it doesn’t belong. And one place they don’t belong is challenging the right of physicians to talk to their patients about guns. Their attempt to criminalize such efforts by physicians (‘Docs versus Glocks’) is both stupid and wrong. And here are the reasons why.
Every day in Emergency Rooms all over the country, people wander in complaining of various degrees of mental distress. Unless they present a “clear and present danger” to themselves or anyone else, they are free to leave and, if we follow the argument of the NRA, they can walk out into the street even if they walked into the ER with a gun. Physicians can restrain a person in the ER who is drunk and might, if released, drive off in his car. But unless an individual actually threatens someone with his gun, the physician who even asks the patient whether he has a gun is, according to the NRA, trampling on the guy’s 2nd Amendment rights, and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
In 2004 a woman in Indianapolis called the police and reported that her 24-year old son was exhibiting dangerous signs of mental distress. The cops found the kid in possession of multiple guns and ammunition, briefly took the guns away but within several days let the young man reclaim ownership of his guns. Eight months later the young man, Kenneth Anderson, shot and killed his mother, a police officer, and then was shot and killed by the police.
I don’t know whether in the intervening period this troubled young man ever saw a physician or other medical professional even though he was clearly at risk. But I do know that even if he had been seen by a physician, the NRA’s position would be that the doctor would not have been able to ask him about his guns. The NRA is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, they say that the mental health system needs to be ‘fixed.’ On the other hand, they don’t want physicians to be able to close a gap in mental health treatment simply through asking appropriate questions and using common sense.
If you walk into a doctor’s office and you’re obese, the physician would be violating the Hippocratic Oath if he or she didn’t tell you to lose some weight. Not everyone who weighs too much is going to live a shortened life, but the physician isn’t violating your privacy by telling you that your weight is putting you at risk. If someone walks into an ER or a doctor’s office and exhibits symptoms of emotional distress, anyone who would deny that gun ownership by that individual constitutes a risk, has no business engaging in a rational discussion or debate about guns.
The 2nd Amendment gives us the right to arm and protect ourselves from the bad guys in our midst. It doesn’t give anyone the right to prevent physicians from finding out whether someone’s behavior might turn them into a bad guy whether they meant to be bad or not.