Gun rights have been trumping free speech and open inquiry in the United States. Florida went so far as to pass a law barring family doctors from discussing gun safety in many situations with their patients – the type of discussion that might have prevented the massacre of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school last month. And Congress has put limits on the funding of gun-related injury research, effectively discouraging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, the country's key agency for delivering grants to researchers, from paying for these much-needed studies.
It should be no surprise, then, that gun controls have become looser, that the National Rifle Association's influence has steadily grown and that some bizarre and dangerous pro-gun laws have been passed in a majority of states. In Vermont, 16-year-olds may carry a concealed handgun without a permit or parental permission. In 35 states, people may carry guns openly, and without a permit.
In the public outpouring about children's safety at school, after the Connecticut massacre, the issue of child safety at home and in the streets may be obscured. In 2009, 114 children and teens were killed in accidents with guns, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A national survey in 2011 reported that 8.6 per cent of high-school boys – one in every 12 – said they had carried a gun in the previous month. Guns are one of the top three causes of death in youth in the United States – a national shame about which the U.S. has grown complacent.
With so many children and teens dying unnecessarily, the state is knowingly contributing to the risk of death by imposing silence on doctors, as it did in Florida, at least until a judge barred its enforcement.
But there's a much bigger battle to be waged, according to two doctors writing in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. In 1997, Congress told the CDC that "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control" could be used "to advocate or promote gun control." Research stopped. In 2009, after federally funded research was published on whether carrying a gun increases or decreases the risk of being assaulted by a firearm, Congress extended its restrictions from the CDC to all federal health-related agencies.
When the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) trumps the First Amendment (freedom of speech), and when the notion of "gun owners' privacy rights" is more important than child safety, one can conclude only that logic and good sense are being turned upside down.