Is there a connection between healthcare reform and gun rights?

Yes, if there’s a centralized medical database. It’s one reason some people are showing up armed at town hall meetings.

Jack Kurtz/The Arizona Republic/AP/File
A man carries an AR-15 rifle during a Barack Obama opposition rally in Phoenix Monday.

Many people were startled to see a man bring an AR-15 assault rifle to the vicinity of a presidential town hall on healthcare in Phoenix on Monday. His intent, he told reporters, was to show his willingness to “forcefully resist” an overreaching government.

He broke no laws, police say, and he was not a threat to the president. But it turns out there’s an actual connection between gun rights and healthcare reform, at least according to one gun lobby.

Gun Owners of America director Larry Pratt says that a Democrat-sponsored government-run healthcare system with a centralized patient record database could keep guns out of the hands of “gazillions” of lawful Americans.

“If this becomes law, there’s no place to escape” if the government wanted to use federal medical records to deem citizens “medically unfit” to carry a gun, says Mr. Pratt. “No trial, no due process, just gone.”

Pratt’s critics agree there are some legitimate privacy concerns around having a central medical data repository.

But they point to an independent 2008 report showing that 90 percent of so-called disqualifying records for a gun purchase are not in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). A central medical records system could, therefore, help enforce federal laws that ban those who have been adjudicated as a “mental defective” or who have spent time in a mental institution from buying a gun.

Making sure that those who don’t qualify for gun ownership under federal law are identified “is the public’s business,” says Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, in Washington. “But just being sick doesn’t prevent you from owning a gun.”

The fear of Uncle Sam seizing guns has been constant since the election of President Obama. Although the administration has not introduced any gun-control measures and national gun rights have, in fact, expanded since Mr. Obama took office, there’s an ongoing insistence – fueled by National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre and others – that the Democratic leadership is itching to take away gun rights.

At the same time, concerns about issues such as the interplay between medical privacy and gun rights don’t necessarily amount to paranoia by gun owners, some legal scholars say.

“I think [gun owners] regularly underestimate the degree to which their own views are taken into account, but what people hear and see is that there are very influential people who are given to making statements like, ‘I support the Second Amendment,’ but who don’t think it would prohibit confiscation of weapons,” says Dan Polsby, dean of the George Mason University School of Law and an expert on the Second Amendment.

While the NRA has sided with background check reform, Gun Owners of America has historically opposed federal background checks for gun ownership. The organization says such checks overly burden lawful Americans and have no effect on criminal violence.

Pratt says GOA, based in Springfield, Va., has not encouraged anyone to bring weapons to political protests. But he hopes more gun owners will make the connection between gun licensing and new healthcare proposals.

“If I’d seen a dozen guys with guns all holding signs that say, ‘Socialized medicine equals gun control,’ I would’ve died and gone to heaven,” he says.

Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Vice President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that the White House is releasing $1.2 billion as the first step toward establishing national medical health records, as outlined in the stimulus bill. The federal government has set aside a total of $20 billion to implement electronic health records nationally, a gambit to improve care and cut costs. Centralized records could save $12 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. "Expanding the use of electronic health records is fundamental to reforming our healthcare system," Ms. Sebelius said in a statement.

"Putting into place safeguards for the privacy and security of this information, when it is in electronic form, will be an ongoing priority that influences and guides all of our efforts," writes Dr. David Blumenthal, the White House's national coordinator for Health Information Technology, in an Aug. 20 commentary.
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