Gun rights, control groups find fight in health debate

By Jordy Yager

A Virginia-based gun rights group has taken issue with the Democrat-led healthcare proposals, saying that the proposed plans could strip citizens of their rights to own a gun.

The Gun Owners of America group, which boasts more than 300,000 members, has been warning its ranks that the proposed healthcare legislation would compile the information of Americans into a government database. The group says that by using this data, the government could deem a citizen “medically unfit” to carry a gun.

“All of the proposals that we’re aware of would handle people’s health data that way,” said Larry Pratt, executive director of the group.

“And then you end up having a gazillion people lose their gun rights because of some medical record that someone doesn’t like, where they say, ‘Oh, that might be a danger to their self or others.’ No trial, no due process, just gone.”

The group also objects to Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebelius, saying that she is prone to restrict gun rights.

“It wouldn’t be any problem for her to drag up some old discredited study from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and say, ‘Guns are contagious and they’re a public health menace. This is another reason for someone to pay a surtax on their insurance because they’re causing all of that trouble in the emergency room,’” Pratt said. “That means that we have a dog in this fight.”

But Paul Helmke, president of the gun control group Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said Pratt has the wrong linkage between gun rights and healthcare.

“One of the burdens on our healthcare system are the 70,000 to 80,000 people that suffer gunshot wounds every year and survive, ending up in wheelchairs, or showing up in emergency rooms without insurance after being shot. There is a connection [between healthcare and gun rights] but it’s not the connection that Larry Pratt is talking about. We as a society are paying a large portion of the cost for this gun violence.”

While Pratt said he has not expressly asked his group’s membership to brandish their firearms at political forums, he fully supports the demonstrators who were seen earlier this week with their licensed guns protesting outside the Phoenix convention center where Presdent Barack Obama was speaking.

Pratt said it helps draw attention to their objections of the healthcare bill and that it could help spur the public to not be shocked when citizens are seen carrying legal firearms in public.

“I think it’s been helpful,” Pratt said. “These fellas hit the jackpot with national publicity. Hopefully a discussion [will result] that will make it plain that good gun control is when a cop or a citizen has their gun in their holster. Just as we’d typically be unalarmed to see a cop with a piece on his hip, we shouldn’t have any different reaction to anybody else. A cop is just us with a uniform.”

But Helmke, a former mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind., says that the presence of guns makes attendees at these forums nervous and it stifles political debate.

“Our system of government is built on a robust system of public debate and how much are you going to argue with a guy that’s carrying a gun?” Helmke said. “It’s a level of intimidation, a level of bullying that is inappropriate in our public discourse. You worry enough about people carrying signs on sticks; well, guns are a whole new level of escalation. It endangers people at these events.” 

© 2009 Capitol Hill Publishing Corp