Op-Ed: Watch Your Guns Around Obamacare
"There is nothing in Obamacare that prohibits another federal agency from compiling a database of gun owners."
by Rachel Alexander
What does gun control have to do with health care? As odd as it seems, Obamacare contains provisions that jeopardize gun ownership, especially for veterans. Anti-gun provisions were added to initial drafts of Obamacare legislation under the pretext of prohibiting people with mental illness – which can include PTSD - from owning guns. Fortunately, the NRA stepped in and got some of the worst language revised last December. Senate amendment 3276, Sec. 2716, part c. prohibits the creation of a firearms database and stops doctors from disclosing or collecting information relating to a patient's firearms. Ironically, this provision was probably the only positive result of most members of Congress not bothering to read the bill before voting on it.
However, the provision does not go as far as prohibiting doctors from asking their patients if there are any firearms in their home. In January, Obama issued 23 executive actions and orders regarding firearms. Order 16 stressed that Obamacare does not prohibit doctors from asking patients about their firearms, and the fact sheet includes, "Clarify that no federal law prevents health care providers from warning law enforcement authorities about threats of violence." What constitutes a "threat of violence" could be very arbitrary. This puts doctors in a difficult position by suggesting they act as pseudo-law enforcement agents. It is damaging to doctor-patient privilege. If doctors have a patient with PTSD or mental illness, and they fail to ask the patient about their firearms, or report them to law enforcement, they could be on the hook later. It encourages them to err on the side of snooping into their patients' guns. This is especially troubling considered the definition of mental illness keeps expanding.
The state of Florida implemented legislation that would have severely restricted a doctor’s ability to ask a patient about guns at home, but a federal court struck it down as unconstitutional. After the NRA got that provision added, the organization backed off on pressing for further changes, no doubt because trying to get more changes done at that time would have been impossible with the Democratic-controlled Senate and presidency. But there are still areas within our healthcare laws that could prohibit Americans from owning firearms – specifically our veterans.
In the 1990s, the Clinton administration ordered the Department of Veteran Affairs to share information about 90,000 veterans considered "mentally defective" by the VA to the FBI, so they could be added to the national instant check system (NICS) as prohibited possessors. To be declared "mentally defective" by the VA does not require an adjudication; it could be a doctor merely finding that a veteran has a mental illness and "lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs." That could easily be held to apply to a veteran with PTSD who is simply in a wheelchair. The definition of "mental defective" by Veteran Affairs expanded under Clinton in 1999. The number of Americans now in the prohibited possessors database has increased to over 550,000 and 11 percent of them are veterans. Nearly 40 percent of veterans are believed to have PTSD.
Under Obamacare, federal agencies like the ATF can still pore over health records and determine who has mental issues or PTSD. There is nothing in Obamacare that prohibits another federal agency from compiling a database of gun owners.
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