Florida physicians continue to oppose law that prevents questions about gun safety

Physicians in Florida can ask their patients all kinds of questions about their safety except for one: Is there a gun in the home?

So the battle continues in that state with many physicians opposed to the law passed in 2011 that prevents pediatricians from asking parents of patients whether there is a gun in the home and if it is secure, according to an Associated Press report that appeared in The Washington Times.

After earlier court rulings have ping-ponged back and forth on the constitutionality of the law, a lawsuit brought by opponents is now pending before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Atlanta and could be ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the AP report. It is a clash between the First Amendment's right to free speech and the Second Amendment's right to keep and bear arms.

Thousands of physicians, medical organizations and other groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are challenging the law in the lawsuit that has become known as "Docs vs. Glocks", according to the report.

"A doctor has to be able to ask," Judith Schaechter, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told the AP. "We do this for so many issues. This is but one. Yet it is an extremely important one, for when we don't discuss prevention, the results can be lethal."

The law, the Florida Firearms Owners Privacy Act, was strongly supported by the National Rifle Association, and generally bans doctors from asking questions about guns. It is the only law of its kind in the country, although 12 other states have considered similar legislation, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Intended to protect the privacy of gun owners, it keeps pediatricians from asking gun questions even though seven children or teenagers are killed every day in the U.S. with guns, according to statistics from the Children's Defense Fund. 

The law does permit doctors to ask about gun ownership if the question is relevant to the patient's care, or the care and safety of others. Physicians who violate the law could face professional discipline, including a fine or even loss of their license.

Opponents continue to challenge the law after a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit voted in December that the legislation is constitutional.

Nationally, President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2013 that clarified that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit physicians from asking patients about gun ownership, a position supported by the Academy of Family Physicians.

To learn more:
- read the article
- here are the statistics from the Children's Defense Fund (.pdf)