Guns Trump Everything

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

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.