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Federal Judge Permanently Blocks Florida Law Banning Doctors From Asking About Guns

By Guest Contributor on July 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm

"Federal Judge Permanently Blocks Florida Law Banning Doctors From Asking About Guns"

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Last week, a federal judge permanently blocked Florida from enforcing a law that banned doctors from discussing gun ownership with their patients. The law, the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act, signed last year by Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL), prohibited “inquiries regarding firearm ownership or possession…by licensed health care practitioners” and “discrimination…based solely on upon a patient’s firearm ownership or possession.”

Because the law’s exceptions, which allow inquiries about guns if a doctor believes in “good faith” that it is relevant to a patient’s care or safety, fail to provide standards for physicians to follow, the law violates the First Amendment rights of doctors:

In her ruling, Cooke clearly sided with the physicians, saying evidence showed that physicians began “self-censoring” because of the “chilling” effect of the legislation.

“What is curious about this law — and what makes it different from so many other laws involving practitioners’ speech — is that it aims to restrict a practitioner’s ability to provide truthful, non-misleading information to a patient, whether relevant or not at the time of the consult with the patient,” Cooke wrote, citing the benefit of such “preventive medicine.” [...]

Cooke, the judge, said the legislation was based on anecdotal information and unfounded conjecture. Her decision was praised by the groups of plaintiffs, which included the Florida Pediatric Society and Florida Academy of Family Physicians.

Not only did the NRA-backed Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act violate doctors’ First Amendment rights, it interfered with routine, meaningful discussion between a doctor and a patient. Questions concerning safety and the home environment are a key part of preventative medicine, and the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that guns constitute a public health issue and that doctors have a duty to ask about ownership.

Out of the 65 children shot in the U.S. every day, eight are killed. And of the one-third of homes with children that have firearms in them, 40 percent store them unlocked. Guns unquestionably affect the health of American children, just as “the presence of open containers of bleach, swimming pools, balloons, and toilet locks” do.

Alex Brown

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