Federal Court Upholds Florida Law To Punish Doctors Who Ask About Guns

A federal appeals court upheld a Florida law known as the “physician gag rule” that bans doctors from asking their patients about whether they own guns.

In 2011, the American Medical Association asked doctors “to inquire of their patients whether they possess guns and how they are secured in the home or to counsel their patients about the dangers of guns in the home and safe practices to avoid those dangers.”

In May 2011, Florida passed a law making it illegal for doctors to ask about guns and in September of the same year a Florida federal judge declared in unconstitutional. 

The Flroida law, backed by the National Rifle Association, says doctors cannot ask “Do you own a gun?” without violating the sanctions and possibly losing their license.

Plaintiffs in the case were doctors who argued they had a First Amendment right to discuss guns with patients. They already ask about alcohol and drug use, seat belt use, helmet use and household toxin storage.

The American Bar Association crafted a resolution in opposition to the Florida ban.

“Preventive care through safety counseling is a pillar of modern medicine, and is vitally important to the health and welfare of patients,” the ABA said.

“Doctors who ask about guns aren’t doing so because they’re nosy. They’re doing so because the vast majority of those deaths and injuries are preventable,” wrote Aaron E. Carroll for the New York Times.

In fact, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence highlights the accidental shootings that occur in the United States:

 Rather than being used for self-defense, guns in the home are 22 times more likely to be involved in accidental shootings, homicides, or suicide attempts. For every one time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were 4 unintentional shootings, 7 criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.

From 2005-2010, almost 3,800 people in the U.S. died from unintentional shootings. More than a third of the victims were under 25 years of age.

Dissenting Judge Charles R. Wilson says if the ruling is not invalidated by a rehearing or by the U.S. Supreme Court it, could have dangerous implications on doctors' free speech.

Sources: ThinkProgress, New York Times, NYAGV.org

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons / Cheryl from River City (Richmond), VA, USA


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