Guns and Health Care: Touchstones or Third Rails?


Yes, They Are

Some interesting currents are afoot as we approach a presidential election year. The Democrats have choices to make on two defining issues. Guns and health care are at once rewarding and dangerous for Democrats

Whether one agrees with her positions on these two issues, Elizabeth Warren has done an admirable job of defining the question. Will her party go bold or go home?

There are plenty of nuances at work, of course. But in general, there are two Democratic approaches. Some lean toward modest positions. They do so, in part, with an eye toward centrist Independents and Republicans. Going too far will be an election looser, they feel. Others feel that now is the time to go bold and stand out. This is the way to motivate the base, reflect party values, and attract new voters.

They are both – of course – right. This is where those nuances come into play.

Health Care

The Republicans have railed against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) since Day 1. They have also trumpeted “Repeal and Replace.” Somehow, even after all these years, they seem to have lost their claim check for the Replace part. They have nothing, and never have.

Not long ago a Texas judge ruled that the whole ACA was unconstitutional; the case went to a court of appeals. The appeals court reviewed the impact of nullification. Millions would lose health insurance, preexisting conditions would be back in force. Lifetime caps would be back. Young adult children would lose coverage. The chief lawyer representing nullification was asked what the government intended to do next. His response? “Well, you know, its complicated.” No kidding, that was his response.

This all seemed academic for a time, but no longer. This administration has been trying to sabotage the ACA at every turn. As a result, many are already facing reduced coverage, higher premiums, or loss of coverage. For the first time in years, the number of Americans with coverage dropped.

Health Care in 2020

Health care coverage was one of the main factors in the Democratic wave of 2018. People began to see first-hand what the absence of a national program meant. And so, this is a good time to make the case for a far more robust national plan.

The concern is that Medicare for All is too easy a target in an election. One hopes that something more like a Medicare for All Who Want It variation carries the day. If so, this will be a major factor in a Democratic victory. More importantly, it will mark America’s entry into the 21st century of caring for its citizens rationally.

The candidates are united on the key goal. Everyone gets good access to life-saving care, including preventive care, without going broke. The argument over how best to get there can be solved. Common sense, shared values, and some willingness to work with each other could carry the day.

Let’s not let disagreements over the how overshadow the fact that all agree on board for the what. The country is ready to settle this once and for all. We will see if the Democrats are up to it.

The Guns Debate has also Entered a Very Different Stage

Shamefully, we remained paralyzed even after Sandy Hook. Same for the many atrocities since then. But of late, pretty well everyone feels at risk. The danger is much more random now. Truly, no one is safe. The public mindset has, as a result, begun to change, finally. Match that with the NRA’s continuing internal troubles and change might be on the horizon. If the Democrats sweep 2020, change will finally arrive

Beto O’Rourke set off quite a storm when he said, Yeah, we are coming for your AR-15’s.” Some bemoaned that this played into the hands of the “we told you that they were going to take our guns” crowd. They worry that it feeds the slippery slope argument.

I see the risk, but I am not sure it holds water any longer. It seems we have an opportunity to broaden the discussion. We can stop treating the Second Amendment as some unique sacred cow. No part of the constitution, including the Bill of Rights, has ever been absolute. Reasonable minds work out reasonable limits.

Freedom of Speech is the closest to absolute. But we all know the example of it does not give the right to falsely yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. Freedom of Religion does not give anyone the right to persecute other religions. (Someone pass a note on that to Mike Pence, please). And so on.

Put Your Hands Up – And Pull a Voting Lever

We seem finally at a point wherein the people are ready to press their government to make us safer through sensible gun safety. Saying that weapons of war have no place in civil society is not a slippery slope. It’s simple logic and reason. Requiring background checks and registrations of weapons as we require for cars and a driver’s license is hardly the entry point for totalitarian government. Giving someone the “right” to own exceptionallydestructive devices means they are accessible to others. That is an unacceptable price for access, even for “good guys.”

Wouldn’t it be something if we suddenly decided to get real and rational about weapons?

The Bigger Issue

One of the reasons we all worry so much about the tribalization of America is that a functioning democracy requires at least two things: common standards of conduct by our would-be leaders and the ability to talk to each other when we disagree.

It appears that a growing majority of Americans are coming to realize that the Trump administration represents a complete breakdown in standards. Somewhere between impeachment and elections, we can lance that boil and begin healing. We have looked over the precipice and for most of us, we desire to go no further.

The second framing issue, our ability to talk with each other, will be tougher to handle, but the hunger is there to get better. Organizations like Better Angels ( and StoryCorps ( are trying to help us get there.

Fingers crossed we get most of this right. We need to look and feel much better in 2021 than we do today.

        Bill Clontz

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2 replies to Guns and Health Care: Touchstones or Third Rails?

  1. The problem with The Affordable Health Act is the corporation profiteers plain and simple. Giving and receiving health care are not the problems. My brief experience with the AHCA when I was laid off from work briefly is that I was monetarily penalized for things I was not aware of despite the info disseminated, probably designed that way. Why should any health care recipient be penalized? That should not be a factor. It is to further take in revenue so calling it the Affordable Health Care Act is a cruel joke. If we could get health care for all with no strings attached hopefully mental health would improve, too, and attention to mental illness would be proactive instead of reactive. Gun issues are mental health issues.

    • Good observations, Vanessa, but I would caution two exceptions. One is that people’s experience with ACA varies greatly; I would hesitate to propose a national policy based solely on our personal experience. I expect there may yet be room for options and fixes out there, although surely the pattern of an insurance company being your health care gatekeeper does not work without stringent controls.

      In guns, mental health is surely a part of it but not solely. Americans are not, as near as I can determine, any more mentally afflicted than any other country. We just put them in the midst of millions of deadly weapons and make it laughably easy for anyone to get them.

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