McCain: Does Oregon GOP Senate candidate Wehby embrace AMA position on guns, ObamaCare?

November 19, 2013


Obama arrives to deliver a speech on health care to the American Medical Association in Chicago, IllinoisWhile the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” will clearly be one of the most important campaign issues in the 2014 elections, for many Oregon Republicans, especially conservatives and Tea Party activists, gun control will also be a defining topic for the May 2014 primary. Oregon conservatives survived a barrage of Democratic measures in the 2013 legislative session, led by the usual suspects like Ginny Burdick and Floyd Prozanski. At the federal level, Democrats’ efforts to implement a nationwide “assault weapon” ban failed to ultimately materialize, though not for lack of trying.

With five declared GOP candidates vying for the opportunity to take on incumbent Democrat U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, the candidates’ position(s) on gun control could play a major factor for activists who consider the 2nd Amendment a constitutional right not to be treaded upon. This issue could become problematic for Dr. Monica Wehby, who is being touted by some Tea Party activists as their “grass roots” candidate. But it is highly unlikely that Dr. Wehby will receive the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, since Dr. Wehby serves as a Board of Trustee director of the American Medical Association, which the NRA considers an enemy of the 2nd Amendment.Wehby AMA group shot enhanced

As noted in an earlier article, Dr. Wehby is an accomplished pediatric neurosurgeon who served as the president of the Oregon Medical Association in 2009. In 2011, Wehby was elected to a four-year term on the Board of Trustees of the AMA. One can presume that to be elected to the AMA board, one supports the policies of the AMA, and when it comes to gun control, the AMA is no friend of the 2nd amendment.

AMA and “Assault Weapons”

AMA policy H-145.993 Restriction of Assault Weapons:

“Our AMA supports appropriate legislation that would restrict the sale and private ownership of inexpensive handguns commonly referred to as ‘Saturday night specials,’ and large clip, high-rate-of-fire automatic and semi-automatic firearms, or any weapon that is modified or redesigned to operate as a large clip, high-rate-of-fire automatic or semi-automatic weapon.”

There are a number of Oregon firearms owners who should be justifiably alarmed at the AMA’s stated policy to support “appropriate legislation” that “would restrict the sale and private ownership of a semi-automatic firearm” that takes a “large clip” or fires at a “high-rate.” Well-educated physicians like the AMA Board, including Dr. Wehby, are presumably real smart people. But the rate of fire for a semi-automatic firearm is directly proportional to one’s ability to manipulate one’s trigger finger. As for a “large clip,” does the AMA Board consider my double-stack Glock pistol magazine a “large clip?” Or what about the dreaded 30-round magazine for my Ruger 10-22 rifle chambered in .22 LONG rifle?

AMA and Dealer Taxes, Ammunition Bans and Local Control

AMA Policy H-145.985 Ban on Handguns and Automatic Repeating Weapons contains a number of policy statements that should incense Oregon gun owners.

First are the issues of mandatory (and expensive) safety mechanisms installed at the factory and taxing gun dealers with surtaxes on both firearms and ammunition sales:

“It is the policy of the AMA to: (1) Support interventions pertaining to firearm control, especially those that occur early in the life of the weapon (e.g., at the time of manufacture or importation, as opposed to those involving possession or use). Such interventions should include but not be limited to:

(a) mandatory inclusion of safety devices on all firearms, whether manufactured or imported into the United States, including built-in locks, loading indicators, safety locks on triggers, and increases in the minimum pressure required to pull triggers;

(b) bans on the possession and use of firearms and ammunition by unsupervised youths under the age of 18;

(c) the imposition of significant licensing fees for firearms dealers;

(d) the imposition of federal and state surtaxes on manufacturers, dealers and purchasers of handguns and semiautomatic repeating weapons along with the ammunition used in such firearms, with the attending revenue earmarked as additional revenue for health and law enforcement activities that are directly related to the prevention and control of violence in U.S. society; and

(e) mandatory destruction of any weapons obtained in local buy-back programs.”

Next is the AMA’s policy supporting “legislation outlawing the Black Talon and other similarly constructed bullets.” This current AMA policy is not only wrong-headed, but hopelessly outdated. Winchester’s Black Talon hollow point bullets were discontinued in 2000. But Winchester did replace the Black Talon with its Ranger SXT line, which many of us joked was Winchester’s code for “Same eXact Thing.” Again, Oregon gun owners should be aware of and wary of the AMA’s policy of supporting legislation that bans hollow point ammunition.

Of particular concern to Oregonians is the AMA policy regarding local control of firearms. The AMA policy itself says:

“[It is the policy of the AMA to] support the right of local jurisdictions to enact firearm regulations that are stricter than those that exist in state statutes and encourage state and local medical societies to evaluate and support local efforts to enact useful controls.”

This AMA policy flies directly in the face of Oregon’s approach to local control of firearms. In 1995, the Oregon legislature took control of the issue through what is known as “preemption,” meaning the state has declared a matter of statewide concern, and any city or county attempts to regulate the matter are “preempted” by state law.

Specifically, 166.170 provides:

“(1) Except as expressly authorized by state statute, the authority to regulate in any matter whatsoever the sale, acquisition, transfer, ownership, possession, storage, transportation or use of firearms or any element relating to firearms and components thereof, including ammunition, is vested solely in the Legislative Assembly.

(2) Except as expressly authorized by state statute, no county, city or other municipal corporation or district may enact civil or criminal ordinances, including but not limited to zoning ordinances, to regulate, restrict or prohibit the sale, acquisition, transfer, ownership, possession, storage, transportation or use of firearms or any element relating to firearms and components thereof, including ammunition. Ordinances that are contrary to this subsection are void.”

Firearms Ownership as a Disease

The AMA’s approach to gun control is based on its notion that deaths and injuries caused by people using a firearm are a public health issue, not a criminal justice problem. This is best seen in AMA Policy H-145.997 Firearms as a Public Health Problem in the United States – Injuries and Death:

“Our AMA recognizes that uncontrolled ownership and use of firearms, especially handguns, is a serious threat to the public’s health inasmuch as the weapons are one of the main causes of intentional and unintentional injuries and deaths. Therefore, the AMA […] urges Congress to enact needed legislation to regulate more effectively the importation and interstate traffic of all handguns” (emphasis added).

Once again, the AMA views the problem as the gun, not the person who uses it. More specifically, the AMA sees the problem as the “uncontrolled ownership and use of firearms, especially handguns.” The AMA answer is more federal regulations affecting the importation and sale of all handguns.

 Asking Patients About Their Firearms

One of the more controversial – and confusing – issues to arise out of the passage of “Obamacare” involved whether physicians may or may not ask patients about their gun ownership, and if so, who would learn of the answers to those questions. Many citizens rightfully ask, “What the hell does that question have to do with my sore throat?” But because the AMA views gun ownership as a potential health issue, the question seems perfectly reasonable to the AMA.

In 2011 the Republican-controlled state Legislature in Florida passed the Firearms Owners’ Privacy Act, a law limiting what a doctor could a ask a patient about their firearms ownership. Violation of the Florida law could result in the doctor being subjected to fines or loss of license. The law was prompted after an Ocala, Florida couple complained that a doctor asked them about guns and they refused to answer. In response to their refusal to answer the gun questions, the physician refused to see them anymore. The law was supported by the NRA.

NRA-voteBut the law was opposed by the AMA and other medical organizations. In 2011 a federal district court blocked implementation of the law and Florida appealed. With Dr. Wehby serving on the AMA Board of Trustees, the AMA filed a friend-of-the-court brief, urging the appellate court to uphold the district court’s injunction. Interestingly, the AMA and the other amici curiae claimed the law violated doctors’ free speech rights – and the court agreed. In other words, as you sit in the exam room awaiting treatment for your sore knee, the AMA claims its member physicians have the free speech right to ask you about your firearms ownership. [emph added by editor]. If you refuse to answer, as did the original couple in Ocala, you may be dumped by your provider for simply refusing to answer a question wholly unrelated to your health.

The AMA reinforced its position on this issue at its 2013 annual conference by reaffirming AMA Policy H-145.975: “Our AMA supports: encouraging physicians to access evidence-based data regarding firearm safety to educate and counsel patients about firearm safety; [and] the rights of physicians to have free and open communication with their patients regarding firearm safety and the use of gun locks in their homes.”

Where Do the Candidates Stand?

For Republican primary voters, gun control legislation varies from relatively unimportant to the most important single-issue for the voter. With Monica Wehby emerging or at least being touted as the de facto Tea Party candidate, this issue begs closer scrutiny. Dr. Wehby already raised eyebrows with her response to the Portland Business Journal on repealing Obamacare when she gave an answer that was much more Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell than Ted Cruz or Mike Lee.

Since 2011, Wehby has served at the highest level of the American Medical Association, which has been no friend of American and Oregon gun owners. To be fair, Dr. Wehby should be given a full and fair opportunity to defend the AMA’s gun control policies from her perspective as a member of its governing Board of Trustees. Likewise, the other four declared candidates – Rep. Jason CongerJo Rae Perkins, Mark Callahan and Tim Crawley  – deserve an opportunity to weigh in on the AMA policies as well as their own position or voting record on gun control laws.

Bruce McCain is an attorney in private practice, a Reynolds School Board member, retired Multnomah County Sheriff’s Captain, and is a member of the Blogforce.