Gun rights and free speech

  • Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013 12:01 a.m.
Fifty-six Republican lawmakers have signed on to support a bill by Rep. Joshua Putnam, R-Piedmont, to ban doctors from discussing gun safety with their patients.

Gun rights advocates value the Second Amendment right to keep and bear firearms.

But the First Amendment right to free speech? Not so much — at least among a gaggle of South Carolina legislators.

Fifty-six Republican lawmakers have signed on to support a bill by Rep. Joshua Putnam, R-Piedmont, to ban doctors from discussing gun safety with their patients.

Post and Courier reporter Lauren Sausser wrote that Rep. Putnam, a landscape supervisor, has since promised to amend the bill so that it will be more palatable to doctors, understandably aggrieved at the prospect of legislators censoring their doctor/patient conversations.

But the very fact that 57 elected officials even considered supporting the original bill is reason for concern.

Do lawmakers really think they can script conversations doctors have with their patients?

Have they forgotten that patients who don’t like a doctor talking about guns can tell him to butt out and can refuse to respond? Or can change doctors?

And even if there were no First Amendment right to free speech, would lawmakers really want to ban doctors from telling new parents about gun safety?

Three children in South Carolina have been shot and killed in their homes recently. If a doctor’s counseling a family about gun safety can help avoid such deaths, why wouldn’t legislators applaud his efforts?

Coming up with a new gun rights bills in the state is no easy task. South Carolina already is a shall-issue state, meaning authorities are required by law to issue carry permits to qualified applicants. It has a self-defense law permitting the use of physical force, including deadly force, when persons are attacked in their homes or places of business. The state allows loaded handguns to be transported in a vehicle, with or without a permit. And on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving, there is no state tax on firearms sales. It’s enough to make a gun nut giddy.

In addition, a bill that has been filed would allow permit holders to carry concealed weapons into restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages. Another would disallow the federal government from regulating firearms made and kept in South Carolina (except machine guns).

At some point you have to wonder just how many laws are required to protect gun ownership in South Carolina — a state that has never demonstrated the slightest interest in gun control. You really have to wonder when legislative efforts threaten other constitutional protections, such as the First Amendment and free speech.

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