Federal Court Rules 2-1 that Florida can Punish Doctors for Talking to Patients about Guns
A federal appeals court for the second time has affirmed a Florida law that forbids physicians from asking patients about gun ownership.
The Florida Firearm Owners Privacy Act prohibits doctors from asking patients whether there are guns in their home. It also bans recording information about gun ownership.
Public health experts urge doctors to ask about gun ownership, in part so they may recommend safety measures if children are in the home or if there is someone mentally ill present. Doctors also ask about household chemicals and swimming pools, but those don’t have the National Rifle Association making contributions to politicians on their behalf.
Shortly after it became law, a suit was filed seeking an injunction on enforcement of the law, saying it imposed an unconstitutional, content-based restriction on speech, was overbroad, and was unconstitutionally vague, according to Dan McCue of Courthouse News Service. A federal judge subsequently halted enforcement of the law, ruling that it was a violation of the First Amendment. But two Republican-appointed judges on a panel from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the injunction, first in July 2014 and again on Tuesday.
“The purpose of the act, as we read it, is not to protect patient privacy by shielding patients from any and all discussion about firearms with their physicians; the act merely requires physicians to refrain from broaching a concededly sensitive topic when they lack any good-faith belief that such information is relevant to the medical care or safety of their patients or others,” Judge Gerald Tjoflat wrote (pdf). Tjoflat was appointed by President Richard Nixon and is the longest-serving active federal appeals court judge. He was joined in his opinion by George W. Bush appointee L. Scott Coogler.
Circuit Judge Charles Wilson, a Bill Clinton appointee, filed a dissent. “Simply put, the act is a gag order that prevents doctors from even asking the first question in a conversation about firearms,” he wrote. “The act prohibits or significantly chills doctors from expressing their views and providing information to patients about one topic and one topic only, firearms.”
To Learn More:
11th Circuit Upholds Law Banning Gun Inquiries (by Dan McCue, Courthouse News Service)
Court Upholds Florida Law That Punishes Doctors For Talking About Guns (by Nicole Flatow, ThinkProgress)
Federal Court Upholds Florida Law Preventing Doctors from Discussing Guns (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)
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