By Paul Helmke
One would think that the massive health care reform package hammered out in the back offices of the Capitol over recent weeks would have kept Senators busy with issues focused on better health, but they still found time to bend over backwards for a non-healthy conspiracy theory from the Gun Owners of America (a gun lobby organization even more extreme than the National Rifle Association).
At the behest of GOA, Sen. Charles Grassley was able to get a little-noticed provision tucked into Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s “manager’s amendment” (the compromise version of the health care reform bill coming out of the Senate) which takes pains to say:
A wellness and health promotion activity implemented under [this bill] may not require the disclosure or collection of any information relating to –
(A) the presence or storage of a lawfully-possessed firearm or ammunition in the residence or on the property of an individual; or
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(B) the lawful use, possession, or storage of a firearm or ammunition by an individual.
I wonder if Sen. Reid recalls the words of his colleague from Nevada, Sen. John Ensign, who in September recognized (albeit accidentally) the high costs of gun violence in our health care system, relative to much of Europe. Sen. Ensign said:
If you take out accidental deaths due to car accidents, and you take out gun deaths — because we like our guns in the United States and there are a lot more gun-deaths in the United States [than Europe] — you take out those two things, you adjust those, and we’re actually better in terms of survival rates.
Sen. Ensign was right about the high number of gun deaths in America relative to Europe. Every year, 30,000 people in America are killed by gunfire, while another 80,000 are wounded. (By contrast, England and Wales have about 200 gun deaths total in a year, including 60 gun homicides, with a gun homicide rate over 30 times lower than ours.)
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I wonder if Sen. Reid is aware that, as far as Nevada is concerned, the Silver State has the fifth highest overall gun death rate in America, including the 11th highest gun homicide rate, according to the latest government figures.
I wonder if Sen. Reid knows that states with the highest levels of gun ownership have 114 percent higher firearm homicide rates and 60 percent higher overall homicide rates than states with the lowest gun ownership.
I wonder if Sen. Reid knows that the risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms; the risk of suicide is three to five times greater; and that a gun in the home is 21 times more likely to be used against the homeowner or family member in a completed or attempted suicide, a criminal assault or homicide, or an unintentional shooting death or injury, than used in self defense.
I wonder, finally, whether Sen. Reid knows that among gun-owning parents who reported that their children had never handled their firearms at home, 22% of those children, when questioned separately, said that they had, and that of youths who committed suicide with firearms, 82% obtained the firearm from their home, usually a parent’s firearm.
Regardless of whether it was even conceivable that health care providers could “require” disclosure of a firearm in the home under health care reform – and it never was – the research is clear that keeping a gun at home increases the risk of serious injury or death to those inside.
Doctors and health professionals asking patients about firearm ownership and safe storage practices is just common sense in the full evaluation of risks to their health.
On this issue at least, it seems clear that some Senators were more concerned with pleasing the extremes of the gun lobby and less concerned with the actual health of American children and families.