A freshman Florida lawmaker who wants to make it a felony for doctors to ask patients whether they own guns is trotting out the bogeyman of national politics to help make his case.
State Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, says he is sponsoring HB 155 — the Privacy of Firearms Owners Act — in part because of the federal health care law.
The state bill would punish doctors with up to a $5 million fine for simply asking a patient or a patient's family about gun ownership and gun habits. Doctors routinely recommend that families keep guns locked away from children.
Brodeur says he's concerned about doctors asking patients about guns and allowing that information into the hands of the government or insurance companies. That could mean higher insurance rates or being flagged in a database of gun owners.
"What we don't want to do is have law-abiding firearm owners worried that the information is going to be recorded and then sent to their insurance company," Brodeur told the Fort Myers News-Press. "If the overreaching federal government actually takes over health care, they're worried that Washington, D.C., is going to know whether or not they own a gun and so this is really just a privacy protection."
Being that the health care law is a stout 974 pages — it's possible that important details could get overlooked. But the bill also has been fodder for several suspect claims. We wondered where Brodeur's fit in.
Health care and guns
So much can be revealed by simply reading the health care law, formally called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Or if that's too much — just try searching for keywords. We accessed the final version of the law through the White House's website.
Then we searched for the word "gun."
Here's what we found: "(c) PROTECTION OF SECOND AMENDMENT GUN RIGHTS."
This provision of the law has two main thrusts — that no one in the government can use the health care law to collect gun information and that insurance companies cannot adjust rates because someone owns a gun.
"A premium rate may not be increased, health insurance coverage may not be denied, and a discount, rebate, or reward offered for participation in a wellness program may not be reduced or withheld (based on) … the lawful ownership or possession of a firearm or ammunition," the law reads in part.
The gun language was added by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid specifically to placate gun owners, who argued that the health care law could be used as a way for the federal government to create a national gun registry or charge gun owners more for insurance. So to avoid any (more) backlash about the law, Reid included a provision to protect gun owners from either seeing their insurance rates increase, or from having their names collected and entered into some federal gun owner database.
"In the face of all this abuse, Senator Reid was pressured by Gun Owners of America and his constituents into making a face-saving move," the lobbying group Gun Owners of America wrote on its blog. "He wanted to silence the pro-gun community's objections, so he took steps to strip the bill of any gun rights concerns."
A gun registry?
So the health care law cannot be used to collect gun data, and it cannot be used to raise the insurance premiums of gun owners. But does the federal government keep a database of gun owners as Brodeur is asserting?
"There is no national firearms registry," said Jim Wright, a gun policy expert who teaches at the University of Central Florida.
William J. Vizzard, a criminal justice professor at California State University Sacramento who spent 27 years working for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, agreed. The government does track some high-powered weapons like machine guns, grenades and short-barreled shotguns but not common firearms like handguns and rifles. There is no searchable database, and records are kept with gun dealers, Vizzard said.
Some states do register firearms, said Daniel Vice, a senior attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. But not Florida.
"To say this is a response to Obamacare would be less accurate than to say this is in response to a more general problem going on long before Obamacare," added David Kopel, research director of the conservative-leaning Independence Institute and an adjunct professor of law at the University of Denver.
Kopel said he believes the real issue is with the proliferation of electronic medical records, which means that if a doctor asks a patient about guns, a permanent electronic record will be created and maintained. And though that record cannot be expressly used by insurance companies or the government, the record exists.
His point might be worth discussing. But in this case, it's not what we're checking.
Brodeur told the News-Press that his bill, which would prevent doctors from asking patients whether they own a gun, was crafted to combat privacy concerns resulting from the passage of the federal health care law.
It turns out that Brodeur's trying to right a "wrong" that isn't wrong. The health care law included specific protections for gun owners — so they wouldn't see insurance premium increases and their information wouldn't be included in a gun owner database or registry.
We rate this claim False.