Thursday, January 24, 2013

An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President: 

You and I have a lot in common:

  •          We both grew up in the Western U.S. in the 1960s and ‘70s.
  •          We both attended law school in the 1980s (but practiced law only briefly).
  •         We were both politically active Democrats during the Reagan / Bush era (before it was cool).
  •          We’ve both traveled internationally, and are members of multiethnic families.
  •          We’ve both spent most of our adult lives in public service (but haven’t served in the military).
  •          We’ve both worked as writers and educators.
  •          We’re both fathers who love our children and want to keep them safe.

I understand your desire to curb gun violence, your sense of urgency on this issue, even your frustration with those who oppose seemingly common-sense gun control measures. 
I’m a flight paramedic.  As a first responder and health care provider for over twenty years, in both urban and rural settings from California to West Virginia, I’ve accumulated more first-hand experience of gun violence than most people ever will.

So please don’t dismiss me as ignorant, irrational, or na├»ve when I urge you to rethink your call for what amounts to a War on Gun Violence.   

We’re a war-weary nation, Mr. President.  We’ve been fighting the War on Terror since 2001.  Although your administration retired the name in 2009, we’re still fighting President Nixon’s War on Drugs.  And we’ve been fighting President Johnson’s War on Poverty since he declared it during his first State of the Union address, 49 years ago.

These three wars have strained our military, clogged our judicial and penal systems, battered our economy, and reduced our political process to, as you put it, mistaking absolutism for principle, substituting spectacle for politics, and treating name-calling as reasoned debate.   Worst of all, they’ve led us far down the slippery slope of trading away our freedoms, our privacy, and the rule of law in an illusory quest for absolute security.

Just as the starting point in health care is “First, do no harm,” the bedrock of our political system has always been, as you eloquently put it, that “we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.”

The notion that we can somehow keep “all of our children … always safe” is beguiling, but no more possible than preventing every terrorist attack, preventing all illegal drug use, or ensuring equal outcomes in our pursuit of happiness.

By all means, let’s conduct further research on gun violence, its causes, and effective ways to limit it.  Let’s have a true national dialogue on the subject.  Let’s see what’s worked in the past, and what hasn’t.  Let’s see which new approaches work at the state and local level, and which don’t .

But let’s not:

  •  rush to re-enact an expanded version of the defunct assault weapon and high-capacity magazine ban (whether the original law was justified, logical, or effective is questionable);
  •  rush to “close loopholes” regarding background checks, antique guns, and gun tracing requirements (the “loopholes” could just as easily be characterized as “constitutional safety valves” or essential privacy rights);
  •  pressure health care workers to delve into their patients’ gun ownership and gun safety practices (it’d be at least as effective, less damaging to patient-provider rapport, and more consistent with current law to just hand each patient a gun safety pamphlet).

I’m especially concerned about your directing the Attorney General “to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.”

How would “dangerous people” be defined?

Recent state and federal government lists of potential indicators of terrorist activities (The DOJ’s Communities Against Terrorism flyers, to cite just one example) have cast a very broad net indeed:  most Americans at one time or another display one or more of these indicators.  Are these types of indicators to be used to determine which Americans can’t be trusted with firearms?

Should we declare that the Second Amendment doesn’t apply to any person who’s ever been treated for a mental illness?  To any person who’s ever suffered a stroke or other form of brain injury?  To any person who’s ever admitted to illegal drug use?

Mass murders are horrific, attention-grabbing … and fortunately, exceedingly rare.  No matter how “dangerous people” is defined, a definition broad enough to deny a single potential mass murder access to guns will inevitably deny hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent Americans that same access.

As you said earlier this week, “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”

I agree.  That’s why I’m writing you this letter; why I’m also writing my local, state, and federal representatives urging them to oppose a War on Gun Violence … and why I plan to join both the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.


Dan Driskill, JD, NREMT-P

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The War on Gun Violence (Part 1)

(Part 1:  Today's "Executive Actions", Obama-care, and the Second Amendment)

This is the first in a series of posts on gun violence and the Second Amendment -- a subject that's been on my mind a lot lately.

DISCLAIMER:  I don't practice law any more; none of this is me practicing law or providing a "legal opinion"; it's just my own personal take on things.

Since this morning's White House announcement has already generated a lot of confusion and inaccurate reporting, I figured I'd start out by examining an especially obscure part of it:  Item 16 of 23 on the president's list of Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions:

     16.  Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.

Along with the two-page list of "executive actions" (a confusing term for an announcement that the president and his Administration will do 23 things, including issuing Presidential Proclamations, asking Congress to pass new laws, and a bunch of other stuff; not 23 executive orders), the White House released a 22 page document entitled Now Is the Time: The President's Plan to Protect our Children and our Communities, which has this to say about Item 16:

doctors and other health care providers to turn a blind eye to the risks posed by guns in
the wrong hands.

  Protect the rights of health care providers to talk to their patients about gun
safety: Doctors and other health care providers also need to be able to ask about
firearms in their patients’ homes and safe storage of those firearms, especially if
their patients show signs of certain mental illnesses or if they have a young child
or mentally ill family member at home. Some have incorrectly claimed that
language in the Affordable Care Act prohibits doctors from asking their patients
about guns and gun safety. Medical groups also continue to fight against state
laws attempting to ban doctors from asking these questions.
The Administration
will issue guidance clarifying that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit or
otherwise regulate communication between doctors and patients, including
about firearms.

Some folks may not realize that the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obama-care") says anything at all about guns and gun safety ... but Section 2717 of the Act ("Ensuring the Quality of Care") contains a subsection (2717(c), on page 19 of this text of the Act) entitled PROTECTION OF SECOND AMENDMENT GUN RIGHTS:

added by section 10101(e)(2)]
and health promotion activity implemented under subsection
(a)(1)(D) 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
‘‘(B) the lawful use, possession, or storage of a firearm
or ammunition by an individual.

authorities provided to the Secretary under the Patient Protection
and Affordable Care Act or an amendment made by that
Act shall be construed to authorize or may be used for the
collection of any information relating to—
‘‘(A) the lawful ownership or possession of a firearm
or ammunition;
‘‘(B) the lawful use of a firearm or ammunition; or
‘‘(C) the lawful storage of a firearm or ammunition.

the authorities provided to the Secretary under the Patient
Protection and Affordable Care Act or an amendment made
by that Act shall be construed to authorize or may be used
to maintain records of individual ownership or possession of
a firearm or ammunition.

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 under
any health benefit plan issued pursuant to or in accordance
with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or an
amendment made by that Act on the basis of, or on reliance
‘‘(A) the lawful ownership or possession of a firearm
or ammunition; or
‘‘(B) the lawful use or storage of a firearm or ammunition.

INDIVIDUALS.—No individual shall be required to disclose any
under any data collection activity authorized under
the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or an amendment
made by that Act relating to—
‘‘(A) the lawful ownership or possession of a firearm
or ammunition; or
‘‘(B) the lawful use, possession, or storage of a firearm
or ammunition.



All sorts of goodies were inserted into Obama-care -- the crowning achievement of the first Obama administration --  to ensure it received enough votes in Congress to be enacted into law.  2717(c) was inserted to reassure the NRA and other Second Amendment advocates who were concerned that government-mandated healthcare would be used to erode Second Amendment rights.  

The Obama administration, having secured passage of Obama-care thanks in part to 2717(c), is now attempting to minimize the impact of 2717(c) on its newly-declared War on Gun Violence.

Under the Act, you can't require a patient to disclose firearms-related information, and you can't collect or maintain such information -- but the Obama administration wants to "clarify" that you can still "ask" specifically "about guns and gun safety".  

Legal?  Probably.  Item 16 hardly pushes the envelope on legal hair-splitting.  Remember "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ... or "It depends on what the meaning of the words 'is' is"?  But you may end up needing to give your patient the equivalent of a Miranda warning before "asking" about their guns:

     "I need to ask about you about firearms in your home and safe storage of those firearms.  You have the right to remain silent.  I can't keep records of anything you tell me.  But I can't turn a blind eye to the risks posed by guns in the wrong hands, either.

A necessary -- or even helpful -- measure in the opening salvo of the War on Gun Violence?  I have my doubts.

33 days since Newtown.  Day One of the War on Gun Violence.

More soon.

My parents, Aubrey and Wanda Driskill, have been married fifty years today.

Happy Anniversary, mom and dad!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Happy 2013, everybody!  Welcome back.

Sorry about the huge gap between posts.  It's been an action-packed 13 months.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Catherine and I got married at the end of 2011; we just celebrated our first anniversary.
  • In March a series of tornadoes  struck our part of Kentucky.  When we couldn't reach any of our neighbors, Catherine, Sam, and I hopped into her Durango and headed East to see if we still had a farm / neighbors.  Turned out the nearest twister, an EF3, had missed us by less than a mile.
  • In May, someone firebombed my helicopter in Cottonwood.
  • In June Catherine, the girls, and I moved from the apartment in Flagstaff to the farm in Kentucky.
  • We spent the summer reducing our rat population, rebuilding our chicken, rabbit, goat, and pig population, and building a woodshed and a hay barn.  In my free time I worked on an ambulance in the KY-OH-WV tristate area.
  • In September, shortly after a birthday visit from Sam and my parents, I started a new flight paramedic job with Air Methods, the world's largest air medical transport provider.
  • October and November were a ballet-induced blur, as our youngest played a magpie and a card in Alice in Wonderland, and the rest of us helped with costumes, props, and lots and lots and lots of driving to and from rehearsals and performances.
I'm still working on Vanished in the West.  Now that we've survived the move, the rats, Alice, the Mayan Apocalypse, and the Fiscal Cliff, I'm hoping to wrap it up in the semi-near-future.

I'm also hoping to post a little more frequently.

Until next time, here are some links I've been pondering on this first day of 2013:
Happy New Year!