Wednesday, February 27, 2013

AMA analyzes gun control reform, points out issues with confidentiality; is a DNA swab subject to 4th Amendment?


The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) – of which I have many memories for its long series of articles in those early days of the AIDS epidemic (as well as did the British journal “The Lancet”, for which I had a rather bizarre source in the workplace), has “come out” with a thoughtful piece on firearms control, by Jeffrey Swanson, “Mental Illness and New Gun Law Reforms:  The Promise and Peril of Crisis-Driven Policy”, link (free) here

Swanson doesn’t take issue with the idea that American citizens normally shouldn’t have access to powerful weapons designed only for war.  (Yes, I know the counterargument, which amounts to anarchy, maybe if you live on the taiga,)  Swanson addresses particularly the additional changes proposed in New York State and then Maryland.
  
As for the reporting requirements, Swanson points out the rather obvious privacy problems, and the practical deterrent effect that such laws could have on people seeking “help”.  Furthermore, reporting people (especially college students) seeking help to authorities would breach the normal legal expectations (now regulated by HIPAA) of doctor-patient confidentiality.
  
JAMA also offers another free piece by Katherine Record, “A Systematic Plan for Firearms Law Reform”.  She surveys the entire field, and mentions the issue of media and videogame violence, for which there is no clearly established correlation to actual violence.  I have to add that when I was a youngster, I wasn’t allowed to see violent content, and when I did see it, I found it quite disturbing.

Both of these articles were published Feb. 7, 2013.
  
This is a good time to mention the controversy before the Supreme Court as to whether police can take DNA samples (by cheek swab) from subjects of routine arrests, without probable cause or court warrants for other specific crimes.  The Associated Press story appears in the Washington Post here. On the one hand, a cheek swab sounds simpler than a fingerprint.  On the other, is taking someone’s DNA like searching one’s home.  I don’t think so.  But is it like looking at emails over 180 days old?

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