Political Animal


July 31, 2012 10:36 AM Guns Trump Everything

By Ed Kilgore

There’s a legal dispute underway in Florida that nicely illustrates the skewed nature of the debate over gun policy in this country. It features, of course, Gov. Rick Scott, who is trying to keep doctors from violating the “privacy” of patients about exactly how many guns they have sitting around at home that might be picked up by children or people with mental health problems. Here’s Jim Malewitz from Pew’s Stateline with a report:

Governor Rick Scott has appealed a court ruling that blocked a Florida a law prohibiting doctors from asking patients about guns, he announced Monday…. (July 30).
Last month, a federal judge issued an injunction against the state’s “Firearm Owners Privacy Act,” an NRA-backed law enacted in 2011 that barred physicians from “making a written inquiry or asking questions concerning the ownership of a firearm or ammunition by the patient or by a family member of the patient,” actions that might discourage gun ownership, according to the law’s supporters. Doctors who violated the statute could be punished by the state.
According to its backers, the need for the act was spurred by a case in Ocala, Florida, in which a doctor threatened to stop treating a young patient whose mother refused to answer questions about guns in her home.
Shortly after Scott signed the law, several physician groups sued the state, saying it’s common in preventative medicine to counsel patients about many types of safety risks, such as household chemicals, swimming pools, drugs, alcohol, tobacco and firearms. Many physicians said the rule interfered with the doctor-patient relationship and eroded care.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke halted the act’s implementation, writing that it violated the First Amendment rights of doctors and the rights of patients to receive information about firearms.
“Despite the State’s insistence that the right to “keep arms” is the primary constitutional right at issue in this litigation, a plain reading of the statute reveals that this law in no way affects such rights,” she wrote in her injunction.

What’s fascinating about this case is that Rick Scott is probably the last person on earth who would normally care anything about privacy rights. But he (or at least the gun lobby folk and their right-wing constituencies) argue that privacy about guns is not only an important constitutional right, but the only one that actually matters in a case in which various legitimate state interests are being balanced. And this reflects the disreputable but remarkably widespread conviction that the Second Amendment is the “crown jewel of the Bill of Rights,” necessary for the protection of all others.

When you boil it down to its nasty essentials, this Second Amendment absolutism is based on the argument that “patriots” need to remain heavily armed in case they decide it’s necessary to undertake the violent overthrow of the United States government. When rapper/actor Ice-T recently said Americans need guns in case they needed to shoot a cop in self-defense, he was articulating the very same principle in a particularly unguarded way. Wonder if Rick Scott agrees.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Joe Student on July 31, 2012 10:51 AM:

    I would argue that the most important right isn't any of the first ten amendments. It is the only one enshrined in the original constitution, the right to Habeus Corpus. If you can be thrown in jail for anything without trial, then none of the other rights really exist except in name only.

  • c u n d gulag on July 31, 2012 10:58 AM:

    If the Founding Fathers had had another Amendment - one that, to help militia's move around faster, gave people the right to have fast transportation, today, we'd have the NCA - National Car Association

    This organization would be advocating for the right of people to own and drive cars as soon as they can reach the accelerator.

    With no licensing, no registration, and no limit to the number of drinks one could have and still drive a car.

    1/3 of the population would already be dead, another 1/3 crippled, and the remaining 1/3 wondering why Congress allows every moron who can breath, to drive, unlicensed, drunk, in an unregistered car?

    And the answer would be - campaign donations.

    And the NCA would threaten politicians looking to stop the carnage, and accuse them with impeding on the RIGHTS of EVERY American to drive whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want, in whatever condition they, or their car are in.

  • c u n d gulag on July 31, 2012 11:00 AM:

    Also too - why stop there?

    They'd also be advocating for people to have the right to own tanks, fighter planes, and bombers.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on July 31, 2012 11:03 AM:

    A right to privacy for people with guns; no right to privacy for people with uteri, so says the Right...

  • Peter C on July 31, 2012 11:04 AM:

    Good for Judge Marcia Cooke. We shouldn't have laws preventing anyone from asking questions. Pesky questions from physicians are not an infringement of a citizen's gun rights; a doctor's advice does not bear the force of law.

    We don't need "He's looking at me funny!"-laws.

  • davidp on July 31, 2012 11:09 AM:

    Re the "crown jewels" argument: gun ownership is also like an entry-level drug. Once someone has bought their first gun, they are vulnerable to propaganda that the government is scheming to take the gun away. This opens out naturally into the whole anti-government ideology. As you clutch your gun, you fantasize about all the other evil things the government is planning to do to you. And of course the gun becomes all the more important asthe means of defending your rights.

  • rea on July 31, 2012 11:10 AM:

    This strikes me in part as a "crazy people deserve guns, too!" argument--don't want doctors treating the mentally ill asking about possession of guns, do we?

  • boatboy_srq on July 31, 2012 11:12 AM:

    It'll be interesting to learn what Scalia has to say about this facet of the "right to privacy" debate.

    @CUND: those organizations exist. In the old days we called them General Motors, Standard Oil and Goodyear. Nowadays it's rolled into the Chamber of Commerce. I think one reason there's no greater advocacy for transportation is the next step would be to demand that every US citizen purchase an automobile - and we can't "force people to buy something" (that's a tax). Also (see my comment above) according to Scalia, "bear" is the operative term: the 2nd Amendment is limited to portable "handheld" weapons. So personal RPGs are probably OK, but private ownership of an armed fighter jet or aircraft carrier isn't.

  • SecularAnimist on July 31, 2012 11:21 AM:

    "Second Amendment absolutism" is based on the absolute right of the weapons manufacturing corporations to profit from mass murder.

  • Grumpy on July 31, 2012 11:25 AM:

    Doctors are allowed to ask about the regularity of bowel movements, the color of genital discharges, and the frequency of alcohol intake. None of this violates the right to privacy because the doctor-patient relationship is considered a private sphere itself.

  • boatboy_srq on July 31, 2012 11:39 AM:

    @Grumpy: "But it-Tis, 'it-Tis! Cuz under that nasty soshulist Obamacare, Teh Doktor will have to report it to Teh Gubmint!"

    Remember, these are the same types who don't want to hear the bad news about how abstinence-only sex ed is NOT working (except for all those shameful sluts they can now point at), yet shriek incessantly about abortion (and even contraception) as murder; who've rigged the unemployment safety net so the numbers drop, not because employment is improving, but because the 99ers are fast becoming ineligible; who whinge about the "47% [who] don't pay any taxes" yet whinge equally loud about the taxes they do pay; etc. etc. Cognitive dissonance: it's what drives the Teahad.

  • N.Wells on July 31, 2012 11:42 AM:

    So for right-wingers, doctors can't ask whether a patient owns guns because that's a violation of privacy and might deter them from exercising their choice to own weapons, but they have no problem with unnecessarily requiring unwilling doctors to shove ultrasound instruments up the vaginas of unwilling women in order to force more of them to raise unwanted children. These people are insane.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on July 31, 2012 11:49 AM:

    When rapper/actor Ice-T recently said Americans need guns in case they needed to shoot a cop in self-defense, he was articulating the very same principle in a particularly unguarded way. Wonder if Rick Scott agrees.

    Case right here in my Central Florida neighborhood .
    Cops bang on the wrong door at 3 in the morning without identifying themselves while looking for a bad guy.
    Guy answers door gun in hand ...BLAM BLAM BLAM
    Guy who answers door is dead .
    Cops say Ooops our bad.

    Rick Scott WORST. GOVERNOR. EVER. Never met a campaign donor who he wouldn't make a law for

  • Kathryn on July 31, 2012 12:17 PM:

    Too true, Gym Bunny!

    There has to be some way to link electon of Romney in Florida with the governance of Rick Scott in focused political ads in the Sunshine State.

  • mudwall jackson on July 31, 2012 2:14 PM:

    “Despite the State’s insistence that the right to “keep arms” is the primary constitutional right at issue in this litigation, a plain reading of the statute reveals that this law in no way affects such rights,” she wrote in her injunction.


    "When rapper/actor Ice-T recently said Americans need guns in case they needed to shoot a cop in self-defense, he was articulating the very same principle in a particularly unguarded way. Wonder if Rick Scott agrees."

    that would depend. is the officer a registered republican or democrat?

  • locoparentis on July 31, 2012 4:09 PM:

    You seem to be painting this business of "Second Amendment absolutism" with a very broad brush.

    There are plenty of Second Amendment advocates who find the Florida law abhorrent. Not only is it a violation of the First Amendment to deny physicians this line of questioning but it is also a negation of the "safety first" meme that the NRA puts out with all of its gun safety classes (which include classes for concealed carry.)

    The NRA has been the loudest voice for gun safety over the years so it is ironic that some elements (NRA-ILA) have forgotten this aspect of the organization in their zeal to paint a picture of imminent confiscation of guns by the Obama administration. If you read sites that cater to gun owners you will see that there is a vigorous debate concerning this issue, especially from physicians who tend to be pro-gun in general.

    As all of the surveys about gun ownership following the horrible Aurora murders show, gun ownership is not in danger and all the politicians know that. On the other hand, physicians, right and left, know that an unsecured gun in a household of children is dangerous and that suicidal persons should not have access to guns either. It is just common sense.

    The real reason behind these laws is what I call the "March of Dimes" effect. After polio was defeated the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis realized that all the good diseases had been taken up. They had to scramble to come up with another cause or lose money and influence.

    The NRA is in that position right now. If McCain had won the last election they may well have been out of business by now or at least reduced to hunting, target shooting and gun safety classes. Obama represents a visible enemy even if he has a much better record regarding guns from their perspective than Mitt Romney who signed into law an ineffective "assault rifle" ban in MA.

  • beb on July 31, 2012 7:10 PM:

    I find this while argument weird because I don't see any reason why a doctor needs to know whether one owns any guns. It's not like when the doctor asks if I smoke or drink, because those activities have a real effect on my health. But guns? Why not ask how many cars I own, whether I have Internet access or a cell phone. I don't think the NRA should force a law banning doctors from asking about guns in one's household. Such bans interfere with doctor-patient confidentiality, but I just don't see any reason for why doctors should ask about guns.

  • Finnegan on August 01, 2012 12:00 AM:

    @beb, here's a legit reason (happened to me). About 12 years ago, I was very suicidal...so much so that my therapist stopped our session and called the psych ward at the university hospital and asked for an "emergency pick-up." The psychiatrist (who IS an MD) asked about my suicidal plans, including questions like "Do you have weapons in your possession or in your home?" Trust me, that was a relevant question at the time. Based on my response, I wasn't allowed to leave the hospital until relative had removed said weapons from my immediate access. Thank G-d for that, otherwise I may not be typing this right now.

  • Surly Bob on August 01, 2012 11:54 AM:

    The problem with most of you who are against gun rights is that you are against freedom. Our country was founded as a free republic. Our founding fathers also explained to us that "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." That includes the blood of maniacs and their victims...the maniac in this case being "a tyrant" and anyone killed or resisting the maniac being a patriot. Our founding fathers knew this to be the truth and the sacrifices that are necessary in a free society. Too bad that IQ's have dropped so drastically in the last 200 years as to have forgotten the sacrifices we must endure for liberty's sake. THAT is the fundamental difference in this argument. Some of us realize there is a cost to having a free society. The liberal contingent, for a variety of reasons, is not willing to recognize and pay this cost. Instead, they falsely think that "government" will look out after them, nurture them, and take care of them. What a crock of BS. Without our rights, we will be EXPLOITED...put into SLAVERY. Only a fool would trust government...which by historical fact is always corrupt.