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The Rights of Guns

It was not a good year for Gabriella Gifford.  It was not a good year for the six people who were killed at the same time she was shot and wounded.  That could have boded ill for the gun. It didn’t. The gun has had a very good year.  Of course it’s not yet over.  One of its three pieces of good fortune has suffered a temporary setback and the future of a third is unclear.  Nonetheless, collectively they give a hint of how the gun’s fortunes will fare if Republicans retain their majority in Florida and gain control of all branches of the federal government in the next election.

Notwithstanding the criticism it received following the January shooting, the gun’s bad odor has not been long lasting.  It has powerful friends that are actively promoting its interests.  Some can be found in Florida and the U.S. House of Representatives.

In June Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott, signed two bills designed to restore a sense of self worth to the gun after its depression following the January Arizona shooting.   Florida House Bill 155 signed June 2 is called the “Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act”.   It addresses a problem that many Florida residents, did not know existed.

Some doctors in Florida inquire of their patients as to the presence of firearms in the home.  It is not clear to the NRA and probably others, why the doctor wants to know that but the NRA knows that answers to those kinds of questions will probably be entered in the patients’ records and the patient will be known to the doctor and staff as someone who has guns at home, a slur on their reputations even though the NRA admires those with guns.   If these kinds of questions are permitted to be asked the next thing you know doctors will be asking about patients’ sex lives.  It’s good cut off those lines of questioning at the outset. And that’s what the new law does.  It says doctors should refrain from asking about firearms.  A federal judge has blocked enforcement of the law.   Governor Scott has said the state will appeal.

Not all is bleak in the gun’s life in Florida.  It can look with pride at House Bill 45 that was signed June 1.   It is called the “Firearms Preemption law” and it addresses the disparity in what rights guns have in different Florida jurisdictions.  In some jurisdictions guns are banned in public lands, such as parks, or municipal buildings.  In others they are not.  This poses a terrible conundrum for the armed law abiding peripatetic Floridian.  A heavily armed family may leave a town that permits guns in parks for a picnic in a jurisdiction that bans weapons in picnic grounds.  The family’s picnic will be spoiled because of the family’s fear of arrest even though it had no intention of using its arsenal unless confronted by hostile picnickers Under the legislation, municipalities are given until October 1 to remove all signs that forbid guns in public places. An individual acting in an official capacity that knowingly and willfully violates any part of the statute can, among other things, be removed from office by the governor.  (This may be one of the few laws anywhere that permits the governor of a state to summarily remove an official who has been duly elected by the people.)  Anyone adversely affected by a jurisdiction’s failure to follow the mandates of the statute may sue for damages of up to $100,000.

The United States House of Representatives has also come to the gun’s defense.  H.R. 822 called the “National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011” has been introduced by two House members and cosponsored by 240 of their colleagues.   Although most Republicans are critical of what they perceive to be the ever encroaching federal government into the rights of states to make their own rules, when the rights of gun owners are involved they are willing to make exceptions.  In this case House Republicans want the federal government to impose uniform rules throughout the country on those carrying concealed weapons.  Under the proposed legislation states could no longer regulate the terms under which people may carry concealed weapons. At present, some states prohibit people convicted of violent crimes or sexual assault from carrying concealed weapons while others do not.  The minimum age at which young people can carry concealed weapons varies from state to state.  Some states require training before issuing a permit to carry a concealed weapon whereas others states believe that people who carry concealed weapons know how to use them and don’t need training.

For those who do not consider themselves gun-friendly there is nonetheless a bit of good news in the House’s action. It shows that some Republicans have at last found a place where the exercise of power by the federal government to regulate what states can do is welcome.  That could be a harbinger of things to come.  Don’t count on it.

Christopher Brauchli is an attorney living in Boulder, Colorado. He can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.

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