Doctor groups challenge Florida gun gag rule

In the highly contentious battle, Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Physicians filed a federal lawsuit this week to overturn a state law that bans healthcare professionals from asking patients in the state about whether they own guns; if violated, they face a $10,000 fine. The complaint was filed in the Southern District of Florida.

The Privacy of Firearms Owners statue was signed into law last week by Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), which bars practitioners from asking the gun question unless it is relevant to medical care or safety; it also prevents them from entering their gun ownership status in patient medical records.

Supporters of the law, including the National Rifle Association, say that asking patients about whether they own a gun is a violation of their privacy and defies the right to bear arms. In addition, supporters of the law say that gun owners may fall victim to discrimination or harassment if their ownership status were recorded.

Dissenters argue that the vague language in what they call the "gun gag gule" limits physicians' ability to treat patients because gun status may in fact be relevant to care and safety. They say that such a law restricts their free speech and that asking about gun ownership is another question that physicians are trained to ask during routine screenings, similar to asking about storing medications and cleaning products.

"By severely restricting such speech and the ability of physicians to practice such preventative medicine, the Florida statute could result in grievous harm to children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly. The First Amendment does not permit such a gross and content-based intrusion on speech and, accordingly, the Court should declare the Physician Gag Law unconstitutional and enjoin its enforcement," states the complaint.

"The practice of medicine requires a free and open exchange of questions, answers, and information between a patient and healthcare practitioner. Indeed, for that reason, both state and federal law protect the confidentiality of such conversations. Physicians and other healthcare professionals must engage in highly personal exchanges with their patients about private, confidential topics so patients understand the risks to themselves, their families, and their children arising from personal decisions they make and private conduct they engage in within their homes," it states.

For more:
- read the bill (.pdf)
- read the lawsuit complaint (.pdf)
- check out the Reuters report
- here's the Miami Herald article
- read the Forbes report