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Florida Doctors May Discuss Guns With Patients, Court Rules

New York Times – by LIZETTE ALVAREZ

MIAMI — A federal appeals court cleared the way on Thursday for Florida doctors to talk to their patients about gun safety, overturning a 2011 law that pitted medical providers against the state’s powerful gun lobby.

In its 10-to-1 ruling, the full panel of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit concluded that doctors could not be threatened with losing their license for asking patients if they owned guns and for discussing gun safety because to do so would violate their free speech.  

“Florida does not have carte blanche to restrict the speech of doctors and medical professionals on a certain subject without satisfying the demands of heightened scrutiny,” the majority wrote in its decision. In its lawsuit, the medical community argued that questions about gun storage were crucial to public health because of the relationship between firearms and both the suicide rate and the gun-related deaths of children.

A number of doctors and medical organizations sued Florida in a case that came to be known as Docs v. Glocks, after the popular handgun.

“We are thrilled that the court has finally put to bed the nonsensical and dangerous idea that a doctor speaking with a patient about gun safety somehow threatens the right to own a gun,” said Howard Simon, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which helped organize a coalition of medical associations and family rights groups that filed a friends of the court brief. “This was a dangerous free speech restriction, especially for the health and lives of children.”

The federal appeals court found that one part of the law — on patient discrimination — was constitutional. That portion of the law stated that doctors could not deny service to patients who owned guns, a provision that was not at the heart of the lawsuit.

The Florida law was the first in the country to try to restrict the First Amendment rights of medical providers to discuss the safe storage of guns with patients, and the court ruling will probably make it more difficult for other states to pass a similar measure.

The Republican-controlled Florida legislature, with the support of the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, passed the restrictions in 2011, aimed primarily at pediatricians. Under the law, doctors could lose their licenses or risk large fines for asking patients or their families about gun ownership and gun habits. Pediatricians routinely ask parents questions about safety in the home, including the safe storage of guns and precautions to prevent drowning in pools.

The legislature grew concerned after it heard anecdotes about people who said they felt pressured to answer questions about gun ownership and harassment when they did not do so. One mother said she felt it was an invasion of privacy. The National Rifle Association also viewed the medical community’s gun-related questions as discriminatory and a form of harassment, a position that the state took in court when it argued the queries violated the right to bear arms.

It became one in a series of gun-rights laws that Florida — a state known for its “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law — has passed over the last few years. But the Court of Appeals decided on Thursday that the law did not violate the Second Amendment. Instead, the court found that there was little evidence beyond a few anecdotes to demonstrate that this constituted harm.

“The first problem is that there was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida Legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients’ firearms or otherwise infringed on patients’ Second Amendment rights,” the judges wrote.

For the doctors, the decision to allow them to ask patients, or the parents of patients, whether they are safely storing their guns goes to the heart of their ability to care for patients and protect them from harm, lawyers said.

“This decision is critical to the health and safety of Florida families,” said Doug Hallward-Driemeier of Ropes & Gray, the law firm that represented the plaintiffs in the case. “It makes clear that the First Amendment does not allow the government to interfere with a doctor providing her best medical advice to her patient.”

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6 Responses to Florida Doctors May Discuss Guns With Patients, Court Rules

  1. SWIFT says:

    The people need to understand that they have rights too. If you have a doctor, who sticks his nose into non-medical related topics; be polite and say FU, then get another doctor. Life can be simple if you have a set of cajones.

  2. Joe says:

    Doctors asking patients about guns? DON’T talk to doctors about anything other than what ails you and DON’T fill out their questionnaires that ask you to tell them everything. If you do want to fill it out, give them the wrong answers, the Feds will have a wonderful database of BS.

    Anyone like to bet doctors will be asking patients about their drug use and mental stability as well?

    Next thing you know cops show up at someone’s door because the doctor reported them for being unstable and owning a gun!

    Remember the Feds are forcing doctors & pharmacists to spy on 60% of Americans.

  3. Bill in IL says:

    Does this “ruling” mean I can now talk to my customers about their healthcare? How about guns? Their lifestyle choices?

    The robe wearing clowns on this court are drooling morons. Unless a doctor is certified in all aspects of public and private safety, they can STFU.

  4. Enemy of the State says:

    They “May” discuss firearms.. but that dosnt mean we have to comply .. see there’s the key to all this .. refusal is the key

  5. mary in ND says:

    I don’t go to whitecoats.

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