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Florida Law Barring Doctors From Asking Patients About Guns at Home Ruled Invalid

| July 3, 2012

guns doctors florida law

You might want to tell your doctor.

Saying it was based on anecdotal information and unfounded conjecture, a federal judge has barred enforcement of a 2011 state law that restricted doctors from asking patients about guns in their houses.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke ruled Friday that lawmakers had failed to make the case that gun owners were being unduly burdened by the law, which restricted doctors and other medical providers from asking questions about gun ownership during medical visits.

In a 25-page ruling, Cook permanently barred the state from enforcing the law, known officially as the Firearm Owners ‘ Privacy Act.

“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…,” Cook wrote. “The purpose of preventive medicine is to discuss with a patient topics that, while perhaps not relevant to a patient’s medical safety at the time, inform the patient about general concerns that may arise in the future.”

Backed by the National Rifle Association and the United Sportsmen of Florida, the bill (HB 155) was approved by lawmakers and signed by the Gov. Rick Scott in 2011. The bill easily passed both chambers along largely party line votes of 88-30 in the House and 27-10 in the Senate.

A coalition of groups including the Florida Pediatric Society and the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence filed suit in federal court in Miami, raising a litany of concerns over patient-doctor relationships and First Amendment Rights.

Cooke issued a temporary injunction in September, saying at the time the group had a good chance of winning its case against the Florida Department of Health.

Critics of the bill, led by Florida pediatricians, said the law interfered with the doctor-patient relationship and muzzled health care practitioners from asking pertinent questions regarding safety issues in the home.

Queries regarding guns at home, physicians argued, are part of a routine battery of questions including whether the home has a swimming pool and whether dangerous chemicals are properly stored.

Supporters said a gun ownership was a private matter. They cited an Ocala case in which a physician dropped a patient after she refused to answer questions about whether the family had guns in the home.

Cooke said neither supporters of the bill nor their attorneys could provide more than anecdotal information proving that prohibiting physicians from asking such questions would result in widespread discrimination against gun owners. They also could not show that Second Amendment guarantees would be jeopardized, Cooke concluded.

“I do not disagree that the government has such an interest in protecting its citizens’ fundamental rights,” Cooke wrote. “The Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act, however, simply does not interfere with the right to keep and bear arms. The state’s arguments rest on a legislative illusion.”


Gun control advocates, who have accused lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott of pandering to the NRA and other politically active pro-gun groups, lauded Cooke’s ruling on Monday.

“Guns kill eight children every day,” said Dan Gross, President of the Brady Center. “The government cannot tell us or our doctors that we are prohibited from discussing the deadly risks posed by guns.”

“We thank the court for recognizing that pediatricians need to maintain an open dialogue with our patients and work with parents in order to keep children safe,” said Dr. Mobeen Rathore, Florida Pediatric Society president. “Discovering potential risks and providing education on how to prevent injury fulfills the patient-physician relationship.”

The Department of Health has not determined if it will appeal the decision, but House sponsor Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, said an appeal is likely.

“I expect the ruling to be appealed to the 11th Circuit (Court of Appeals in Atlanta,)” Brodeur said. “But that will depend on the wording of the ruling. I haven’t read it yet so we’ll have to see.”

Barring any appeal, at least one key supporter said he thinks gun owner rights advocates and medical professionals can come to terms.

Lawmakers, for example, last year crafted a bill that had enough protections that the Florida Medical Association did not oppose it.

“It’s an issue worth addressing next session,” Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Monday.”I’m optimistic that we can allow the reasonable application of medicine and protect constitutional rights.”

–Michael Peltier, News Service of Florida

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21 Responses for “Florida Law Barring Doctors From Asking Patients About Guns at Home Ruled Invalid”

  1. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    This is yet another example of a situation where there is a free market solution that does not require Government interference. The law should be struck down, because a Dr as a private individual and business should be able to ask any question he/she pleases. And I, on the other hand, can decide whether or not I want to answer the Doctor’s irrelevant questions. If it becomes such an issue that Doctors refuse to see individuals that will refuse to see patients that refuse to answer their irrelevant questions, that will be solved quickly by the NRA or other groups publishing lists on which doctors are determined to delve into such issues, and people will vote with their feet. I don’t know how many times I’ve been handed a stack of papers to fill out at a Doctors office that demanded irrelevant information. I simply refuse to fill it out and return the papers blank, which 9/10 times goes unquestioned. On the odd occasion that they do question it, I say I’m not filling that out because has no relevance to my reason for being here today. I’ve yet to have a doctors office refuse to take my money because I won’t fill out their paperwork.

    Doctors, however, need to stay in their lane. We tend to assume that Doctors are experts in everything in our society for some unknown reason. A pediatrician is not, simply by virtue of the fact that he/she graduated from medical school, an expert in raising children, gun control, pool maintenance, or anything other than pediatric medicine.

    • Straightshooter says:

      Well said. This is the biggest crock of bull that only is rivalled by the crap that comes out of this Administration. It is said that Feces flows dowhhill.

      If responsible gun owners yield to this contamination then next will be the Obamascare and maybe his return for another term and complete chaos and loss of our Constitutional Rights. But, is this important, since so many immigrants feel that they are in a country that is so much better than where they left and most have the right to vote,and maybe all, if Obama is re-elected.

  2. Clint says:

    All the doctors I know personally all OWN and carry firearms. I actually shoot with two at my range every month. Go figure !

  3. John Boy says:

    Scott and his Right Wingers have again cost the State of Florida another load of money in another stupid law suit. Most of the Legislation that he has pushed has been struck down. The most Unpopular Governor in the Country and probably the most stupid. Lust goes to prove that once a criminal always a criminal.

  4. Geezer says:

    My automatic answer: “Oh no, I’m afraid of those things.”
    I say that instead of: “It’s none of your business.”

  5. Outsider says:

    I’m just curious; if a patient responds “yes” to the question of gun ownership, will that be included in the patient notes, which will one day be sent to a government database as part of digital patient records? Lemme guess: “Yes.”

    • Rich7553 says:

      If any list of gun ownership is created, it is a violation of §790.335 Florida Statutes. My guess is that the doctors don’t know about that little tidbit.

  6. Thinking says:

    We already have digital patient records. Electronic Medical Records, Electronic Health Records, E-Prescribing or E-Rx. The local area hospitals use them and many of the physicians offices already use them. To continue doing business with Medicare, all physicians have to use the electronic prescriptions by the end of this year or get a 1.5% penalty, and if not implemented by 2013, a 2.0% penalty. I would only be concerned when Medicare/Medicaid starts requiring physicians to ask certain questions. Otherwise the doctor should use good sense.

  7. question says:

    May be they would like to know because Drs had to patch up these 186,000 children with bullet holes in them:

    Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston analyzed reports from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey of U.S. emergency department visits from 1999 to 2007. In those eight years, they counted nearly 186,000 children, from newborns to 19-year-olds, who had been treated for firearm injuries. About 8,300 of those injuries proved fatal.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/guns-wound-30-percent-kids-study-finds/story?id=14741514

    Each year, more than 20,000 children go to U.S. emergency rooms with gun injuries.

    And these are just the children…can just imagine what these #s are for adults.

    • Anonymous says:

      i wunder what the % of these “children” you know the 18 + 19 yr olds that are patced up with bulet holes in them are from their own actions with drugs and other illegal actions. Also what % of all is from illegaly owned guns??

    • Rich7553 says:

      Funny, but doctors don’t seem to care about fire safety, which kills 8 times as many children every year as do firearms.

  8. elaygee says:

    The doctors ask the question so they know if they should inform you about proper gun safety in homes with children. I cannot fathom how that interferes with your magical mystical gun rights.

    • Rich7553 says:

      What exactly qualifies a doctor to counsel anyone on “proper gun safety”? Literature from gun control organizations perhaps? Doctors have no more credibility on gun safety advice than I do as a firearms instructor and range safety officer giving medical advice. But then again, it’s illegal for me to masquerade as a doctor, yet it’s okay for them to pretend to be firearms safety experts.

  9. Thinking says:

    Time spent with a practitioner is very limited. Instead of “asking” the question and waiting for a truthful answer, if this prevention information will in fact save so many childrens lives, why not simply provide the information to all patients? Especially in the case of pediatricians talking to parents, just assume someday they might happen upon a gun, or have one in the home and not want to admit it for whatever reason, just give the valued information.

    • Rich7553 says:

      When I was young, the family practitioner in my hometown had a huge rack of pamphlets in his waiting room covering a wide variety of topics from prenatal care to common issues of the elderly.

  10. question says:

    Gotta say… LOVE this photo…priceless!

    What’s the story there?? Was there one from where you found this pix?

    Thanks!

    [question, we got the shot off Creative Commons in Flickr, and there was no explanation attached.–FL]

  11. Clint says:

    The “real” reason for this UN-AMERICAN invasion of privacy is NOT to protect children. Its to start a digital database of anyone who may have a firearm in their home. Remember, your whole life history is being sent to a “government database” that will be used by every government agency to control the population by firearm confiscation, government health insurance rejection, and GOD knows what else they have planned for our society. Had enough yet America ?
    “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave._- Elmer Davis

  12. Outsider says:

    Home of the brave? Some are brave, but I’m beginning to wonder where we are headed. We have gone from Revolutionary, rag tag soldiers with no shoes trudging through snow, losing feet to frostbite in a REAL fight for freedom, to a woman crying foul and injustice because she couldn’t get three grand worth of free condoms while attending a prestigious law school on someone else’s dime.

  13. Outsider says:

    Question: those stats need a little more explaining. If 186,000 injuries resulted in just 8300 fatalities, that’s a suspiciously low fatality rate if a gun was involved. It makes me wonder if they counted being squirt in the eye with a water pistol as a gun-related injury. I think all 8300 fatalities happened in Chicago….last weekend.

    • Rich7553 says:

      The same type of obfuscation comes out of the beloved Violence Policy Center. Their webpage, “concealed carry killers” lists incidents involving licensees who killed someone justifiably, who killed someone without using a firearm, and those whose licenses had expired or had been revoked. The truth is irrelevant to the VPC.

      Correction: four times as many kids die from fire/burns as from firearms. Ten times as many drown.

  14. Ben Blakely says:

    “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” If it were not guns, it would be knives, then hammers, than forks and finally rocks.

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