The words were tucked deep into the sprawling text of President Barack Obama’s signature health-care overhaul. Under the headline, “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights,” was a brief provision restricting the ability of doctors to gather data about their patients’ gun use — a largely overlooked but significant challenge to a movement in American medicine to treat firearms as a matter of public health.
The language, pushed by the National Rifle Association in the final weeks of the 2010 debate over health care and discovered only in recent days by some lawmakers and medical groups, is drawing criticism in the wake of this month’s massacre of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Conn. Some public health advocates, worried that the measure will hinder research and medical care, are calling on the White House to amend the language as it prepares to launch a gun-control initiative in January.
NRA officials say they requested the provision out of concern that insurance companies could use such data to raise premiums on gun owners. The measure’s supporters in the Senate say they did not intend to interfere with the work of doctors or researchers.
Physician groups and public health advocates say the cumulative effect of these restrictions undercuts the ability of the White House and lawmakers to make the case for new laws, such as an assault weapons ban, in the face of opponents who argue that there’s no evidence that such measures are effective. Advocates for regulating guns lament that reliable data are limited in part because physicians and health researchers who could track these patterns are being inhibited.
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