Docs Versus Glocks – Round 2 About To Begin

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In 2011 the Florida legislature passed a law to protect the state’s gun owners from having to divulge any information about gun ownership during the course of a medical exam.  The law, which became known as ‘Docs Versus Glocks,’ soon became one of the main poster children of the pro-gun, anti-gun argument that really heated up after the carnage at Sandy Hook.  On one side stood the NRA, which touted the law as a defense of 2nd Amendment rights; on the other side was Brady and the medical community which viewed the law as interfering with the doctor’s right to know.  The law was struck down in 2012 by a Federal District Judge and was immediately appealed by the Gunshine State to the 11th Circuit which held a hearing in July, 2013.  Everyone’s expecting a ruling soon so I thought I would take the opportunity to discuss the case before all the real experts get into the act.

logomdThe law doesn’t completely deny physicians the ability to talk to patients about guns.  What the law actually says is that a physician “shall refrain” from inquiring about firearm ownership unless the practitioner “in good faith believes  that this information is relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others….” Yet despite this caveat, the medical community attacked the law, declaring that its language would have a chilling effect on the ability of physicians to talk to their patients about all kinds of safety and health issues, not just about guns.  The District Court sided with the docs, calling the law a “legislative illusion” because there was no connection between questions asked about gun ownership and protecting the 2nd Amendment right to own guns.

logo glockWhile arguments over gun control at the federal level get all the headlines, it’s what happens at the state and local levels that really determines whether or not gun owners can get or keep their guns.  The Sullivan Law has been in existence since 1908, it’s almost impossible to own or carry a gun in New York City and 2nd Amendment ‘rights’ can go fly a kite.  In total dollars the NRA gives out less than half a million to state-level candidates and parties, but this is 30 times more than gun control groups give to the same races.  And in a state-level race where 200 or less votes can make the difference, getting your hands on an NRA phone list may carry the day. I’m not sure that the Florida legislators who voted for the gun bill knew or even cared what the law said.  But they didn’t want to be ‘scored’ by the NRA in the next election because they voted the wrong way.  Before the Tea Party showed up it really didn’t matter whether a Republican toed the line on gun issues because the NRA wasn’t about to support any Blue candidates anyway.  But now that a growing number of Republican office-holders face primary challenges from the Right, everyone on the Red side of the aisle is listening to the NRA.

As for doctors, it took them nearly a century after 1850 to become a self-regulating profession whose guidelines for practice and behavior were largely established and maintained by themselves.  And even though their professional autonomy has of late come into conflict with the market imperatives of insurors and other for-profit enterprises, they still retain sovereignty over defining how to deliver their services at the point that such services matter most, namely, in consultations with patients.  The fact that the Florida legislature didn’t bother to ask their own state Health Department for a recommendation on physicians talking to patients about guns tells me that the motive behind the law had nothing to do with concerns about the delivery of health care at all.  For that matter, it wasn’t that the law threatened doctors who talked to their patients about guns per se, it was the fact that any law which infringes on the professional autonomy of physicians to communicate with their patients threatens the validity of the Hippocratic Oath.

Let’s hope that the 11th Circuit understands what this argument is really all about.

The New Georgia Gun Law: Much Ado About…Nothing.

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You know that gun control is no longer an issue, either pro or con, when both sides in the gun debate try to make you believe that something big has happened on the legislative front when nothing of any real importance happened at all.  I’m referring to the gun law just passed in Georgia which is awaiting Governor Nathan Deal’s expected signature, a law described by the New York Times as one of “breathtaking sweep” and by the NRA as  a “historic victory for the 2nd Amendment.”

Since I really do believe in evidence-based discussion about guns, I took the trouble to read HB60, as the new law is known. If this law represents a ‘historic victory’ for the 2nd Amendment, the NRA better find someone else to defend the beloved Constitutional rights of gun owners.  On the other hand, if the editors of Mother Jones really believe that this new law will result in guns being “everywhere” in Georgia, then there must be some place named Georgia other than the state where this law was just passed.

Here’s what the bill basically does: (1). It allows guns to be carried in places where liquor is served, which previously had been off-limits for guns. (2). It also allows guns to be carried in churches which, like restaurants and bars, were also off-limits for guns. (3). It allows guns to be carried in certain non-secure areas of airports, which is really funny since Atlanta’s airport was ranked #1 nationally in the number of guns confiscated in 2013.  Since most guns are confiscated as people move through the security zone, the new law will probably result in the number of Atlanta confiscations going up!

The law also makes some minor changes in the application process, a few new do’s and don’ts when it comes to hunting and, what has become requisite in virtually every gun law passed since Sandy Hook, some language allegedly making it easier to pass information about mentally ill people to the feds.  But if you take the time to read the new law and go back and read the current law as well, you discover that most of these “historic” changes don’t mean much at all.

First of all, the law about carrying guns into liquor-serving establishments does not prevent any bar or restaurant owner from declaring his premise off-limits to guns.  All he has to do is stick a sign in the window or simply stand at the door and tell patrons that he would appreciate it if they left their guns in their cars.  As for bringing guns into houses of worship, this is an ‘opt-in’ law which means that the congregation has to agree to let parishioners bring their guns into the building before anyone can have a conversation with the Almighty while sitting on their Glock.

Finally, while Georgia does not require a permit in order to purchase or own a gun, it does require a background check and prints in order to carry a weapon, and the issuance of said license can be denied if the licensing authority (who happens to be the County Probate Judge) decides that the candidate, even if he meets the legal requirements, is “not of good moral character.”  You’ll have to read down to Page 16 (Section 1-7) to find this little gem and a few pages later you’ll learn that someone who is denied a carry license can appeal the decision and will then appear at a hearing – before the same judge! And if the judge prevails at the hearing?  That’s it. The law makes no mention of an appeal. Well, I guess you can move to another County.

I’m not an attorney and certainly no expert in constitutional law.  But it seems to me that if a Probate Judge or anyone else can determine someone’s fitness to carry a gun based on something as vague as “moral character,” then this law hardly enshrines 2nd Amendment rights.  At the same time, the fact that I can pee in an airport toilet without first unhooking my holster doesn’t seem much of an indication that guns will soon be found in every nook and cranny of the Peach State.  Like I said, right now there’s just not a lot of noise being made about guns.


Even Though There Are More Good Guys in Arizona, The Bad Guys Are Winning


Everyone is aware of the NRA’s argument that the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.  They’ve been saying it for years, but they began screaming it out from the rooftops after Sandy Hook.  And even though we seem to keep hearing about good guys who shoot other good guys, like the murder of Chad Oulson in a Florida movie theater by the ex-cop Curtis Reeves, such incidents are dismissed by the pro-gun crowd as aberrations or mistakes that should have no bearing on whether every good guy in America should be walking around with a gun.

Jan Brewer

Jan Brewer

But a group of ER and Trauma physicians have just released a report on the effect of a 2010 law in Arizona which basically made it a lot easier for all those good guys in the Grand Canyon State to walk around with a gun. Prior to 2010, gun ownership in Arizona did not involve state or local approval, and guns could be privately transferred without a background check.  But carrying a concealed weapon in Arizona did require a police-issued permit, and part of the process also involved required proficiency training in how to use the gun.

The new law, SB-1108, was signed by Governor Brewer and went into effect in 2010.  The law abolished the permit requirement for carrying a concealed weapon and also abolished the necessity to even prove that you knew anything about how to operate the gun.  And since Arizonans are free to sell or transfer handguns privately without a background check, this means that virtually anyone regardless of their legal or proficiency background can join up with the good guys and carry a gun.

Talk about fulfilling the fondest wishes of the NRA.  Finally people like John Lott, Gary Kleck and all the other NRA sycophants who have been telling us for twenty years that more guns equals less crime have an opportunity to prove that what they have been saying is really true.  But there’s only one little problem.  The research that was just published shows that the good guys with those guns haven’t been doing a very good job of protecting us from crime.

The researchers looked at gun injuries and deaths in Tucson over the four-year period between 2008 and 2012, in order to compare gun violence for the same time-period before and after SB-1108 was passed.  And what they found was that “gun-related injuries and deaths increased in southern Arizona, mostly owing to an increase in gun-related homicides.”  This information agrees with numerous studies over the years that correlate gun violence with the presence of guns, but those studies rely on data about gun ownership in general, not whether there exists a concordance between gun violence and guns that are being toted around concealed.

Now it turns out that the overall homicide rate went down in Tucson between 2010 and 2012, which seems to support the NRA’s position about the value of good guys having more guns.  But there’s only one little problem: all the other categories of violent crime in Tucson went up and they didn’t go up by just a little bit.  According to the FBI, the robbery rate went up 13%, aggravated assault increased 11%, and the overall violent crime rate in those two years also increased by 13%.  Statewide, violent crime went up only 4%, but it sure didn’t go down.

So where are all those good guys with guns who can now walk around cities like Tucson and protect its citizens from any bad guy carrying a gun?  Arizona is the first state that has removed virtually all legal and training requirements for people who want to protect themselves and others with a gun.  So far it doesn’t look like the good guys are up to the task.