Jim Acosta at CNN reports:
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Already on the books. A law you probably don’t know about, hidden in a very surprising place. We think you need to know about this law because critics say it damages our ability to truly know, using serious science, the impact that guns have on public health and public safety, impeding research on gun safety, and preventing doctors from talking to patients about the potential health risks that come with gun ownership. Advocates who support the law say it protects the rights of gun owners.
Now as we reported last week the National Rifle Association somehow managed to push this stealth legislation into President Obama’s health care reform bill. The question is how and why. And why, whatever you think of a law, one of the president’s top allies — that’s right, the president’s ally — helped the NRA get it passed. No surprise that there’s a big dose of politics involved here.
Jim Acosta tonight is “Keeping Them Honest.”
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When President Obama signed National Health Care Reform into law, few in Washington knew that buried in the legislation’s more than 900 pages was a gift to the nation’s powerful gun lobby. But here it is. A provision entitled “Protection of Second Amendment Rights.” It states the government and health insurers cannot collect any information relating to the lawful ownership or possession of a firearm or ammunition.
The provision was such a secret, “The Washington Post” reports, that some people in the White House didn’t even know it existed, despite being in the president’s signature legislation.
Health care advocate Joan Alker did notice it and has a hunch where it came from.
(On camera): And so how do you think this got in there?
JOAN ALKER, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES: I don’t know. I’m assuming the NRA put it in at the last minute.
ACOSTA (voice-over): So who put it in there? It might surprise you to learn it was this man, the most powerful Democrat in Congress, Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. But why? A Democratic source close to the passage of the health care law tells CNN, “This is what was viewed as a relatively benign way to make sure the National Rifle Association didn’t get involved with this.”
Reid has been a top advocate of gun rights for years. In fact, just days after the health care law was signed, Reid invited Wayne LaPierre, a top official at the NRA, to the opening of this Nevada weapons range.
SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: People who criticize this probably would criticize baseball.
ACOSTA: LaPierre’s visit was a big boost for Reid, who was courting gun owners in his very pro-Second Amendment state of Nevada, in a tough battle for re-election.
WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: I also want to thank you, Senator, for your support every day at the federal level for the Second Amendment, and for the rights of American gun owners.
ACOSTA: Both Reid and the NRA declined to talk to CNN on camera, but Democratic sources on Capitol Hill say the NRA was not the only threat to the president’s health care bill. Lawmakers were also worried about conspiracy theories, circulating among gun enthusiasts that falsely accused the Obama administration of plotting to use the health care law to go after gun owners. One group, the Gun Owners of America, insists it could still happen.
LARRY PRATT, GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA: It says that all of our medical records are available to be pawed through by bureaucrats somewhere in Washington, looking for a reason to disenfranchise gun owners.
ACOSTA: As for Reid, his staff told us today the Senate majority leader’s views on gun control are changing. “He’s in a different place than he was in 2010,” says an adviser. Consider how Reid answered the question after the July movie theater massacre in Colorado.
REID: With the schedule that we have, we’re not going to get into a debate on gun control.
ACOSTA: And how he responded after the killings in Newtown.
REID: We need to accept the reality that we’re not doing enough to protect our citizens.
COOPER: Jim Acosta joins us now along with 360 MD, Sanjay Gupta.
So, Jim, a majority in both Houses of Congress supported Obamacare. The administration spent years working to make it a reality. How was it possible that this was a surprise to the people who introduced the bill and the people who voted for it?
ACOSTA: Well, Anderson, I have to tell you I talked to a number of congressional sources, sources over at the White House, advocacy groups. And I would have to say, some of them did know about this before it was passed, but they say it came very late in the game. And here’s the situation with the passage of the health care law. Essentially, you know, any part of this bill, had it been pulled out in the last stages of the legislative process, could have brought the whole thing down. So whether it was the — this gun control part, if that had been pulled out, I’ve been told by a couple of Democratic sources, you know, some moderate Democratic senators could have walked away from this bill at the last second.
And so they were just very, very afraid that any provision, had it been yanked out at the last second, could have brought the whole thing down.
COOPER: And, Sanjay, the provisions that were slipped in, what will they impact medically speaking?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I read through this pretty carefully. It’s a pretty small provision. Just five lines, really. It does not specifically forbid as part of the Affordable Care Act, from doctors, forbid them from asking their patients about guns. But it sort of prohibits them from collecting that information, documenting it, and using it for the purposes of research.
That’s the real concern here, or for the purposes of wellness programs. So, you know, this whole idea that you try and do things within your own home, within your own life to be safer, collecting this information by guns could not be part of this.
You know, the NRA says, look, this — that information could be used to discriminate against people in terms of their insurance premiums, people who want to have these conversations say, this is what you need to do to become — to create more safety around this.
COOPER: And Jim, has Harry Reid really shifted on gun control or is this just a convenient position for him right now?
ACOSTA: Well, we’re going to have to find out, Anderson. I mean, you’ll recall after the Aurora shooting, he came out and talked to reporters and said, there just wasn’t any time in the legislative calendar to deal with gun control. His office now says he has changed on that, he has changed on the issue of gun control. He made some pretty heartfelt comments on the floor of the Senate after the Newtown tragedy. And so it just now remains to be seen.
Keep in mind, Anderson, there is a lot on the plate for Congress right now. They have not only those spending cuts that were delayed as part of the fiscal cliff, they have the debt ceiling to deal with and now these nominations of Chuck Hagel and John Brennan over to the Defense Department and the CIA. So now it is a question of how much time they have, but now I think a lot of people will be watching, does Harry Reid make that time?
COOPER: And, Sanjay, I mean, some states, though, are taking this one step further, proposing state laws that would actually make it criminal for a doctor like yourself to ask a patient. You could actually lose your medical license for asking, is that correct?
GUPTA: Yes, and I’ll tell you, it was even more than that in the original version of the bill down in Florida, for example. And there are seven other states like this. The original version was that you could impose jail time for simply asking. So a physician asking a patient about guns could be — could land them in jail, according to the original version. There was a scaled back version that was subsequently put forward, that you could still lose your medical license, you could get financial penalties.
That was subsequently overturned by a federal judge, but it’s being appealed. So, yes, it could be even a step further in some of these states, even a step further than what’s in the Affordable Care Act.
COOPER: Why would, Sanjay — I mean, what would an example be of why a doctor would ask a patient about owning a gun?
GUPTA: I think that the big thing here is they’re not — that it’s anti-guns, they’re trying to get rid of guns, they’re trying to figure out what the safety protocol should be.
I’ll give you an example, Anderson. I went to the doctor a couple of months of ago, I go every year, they ask me about all sorts of things, knowing that I have small children in the house, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, swimming pools, and they did ask me about guns as well. So it’s a question of thinking about this from a public health perspective.
Let me just share some numbers with you, Anderson. I know we’ve talked about this before. But if you look over a two-year period, for example, what you come to find is that for children between the ages of 5 to 14, it is guns that are the third leading cause of death. Some 5,000 deaths over that time period, 5,740 deaths, you can see there. And look at the number of injuries, as well. Close to 35,000, 34,387. So this is vantage point from which doctors and health care professionals are speaking.
COOPER: And — I mean, what’s interesting, Jim, on the legal — on the policy side, this is not the first time, Jim, that we’ve seen the NRA have friendly positions — provisions slipped into health care bills.
ACOSTA: That’s right. This has happened before. And that’s why it’s interesting to see Harry Reid having been a part of this because the natural inclination of a lot of people is to think that well, this is really just the Republicans who’ve been cozying up to the NRA for years.
I have to tell you, Anderson, I interviewed Howard Dean way back in 2004 when he was running for president, and at that time, he was talking about how he was a pro-gun rights Democrat, a different kind of Democrat. And this has really changed and evolved over time for the Democrats Party. They are not the party of the assault weapons ban of the Clinton Administration. They have become very, very close to the National Rifle Association. And now I think they’re having some soul searching over that.
COOPER: Interesting. Sanjay, Jim, thanks very much.
ACOSTA: You bet.
COOPER: Well, let us know what you think about this law, if you knew about it, follow me on twitter @andersoncooper. I’m tweeting about it tonight.