The Florida House passed two measures supported by the powerful National Rifle Association on Tuesday, one that penalizes counties and cities that pass gun regulations that are stricter than state law and another that limits a doctor’s ability to ask questions about gun ownership.
The Senate is poised to pass similar measures this week, positioning both for likely approval soon by Gov. Rick Scott.
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House Democrats slammed both measures for favoring the rights of gun owners over a doctor’s interest in protecting patients – particularly children – and the rights of counties and cities to pass ordinances to protect the safety of their residents.
One measure approved by the House on a 88-30 mostly party-line vote represents a compromise between two lobbying groups, the National Rifle Association and the Florida Medical Association.
The bill (HB 155) limits a doctor from asking a patient about gun ownership if it’s not relevant to the patient’s care, and prevents the doctor from noting gun ownership in a patient’s medical file unless the information is pertinent to the patient’s safety or the safety of others.
Republicans touted the measure as a happy compromise, even though pediatricians still oppose the bill. In its original form, the bill prohibited doctors from ever asking patients about gun ownership.
“The fact that it is better than it was doesn’t make it good,” said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek. “It’s still an infringement on medical care.”
Republican lawmakers said the bill protects a gun owner from being asked intrusive questions.
“For your children’s doctor to question you regarding gun ownership is absurd,” said Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights. He said the “murder rate is very high in Jacksonville. A well-armed citizenry is necessary.”
NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer, who was watching the House debate from the gallery, said it is “common” for doctors to ask these questions, though she could not provide an exact number for how many people have complained about such questions being asked.
The second bill (HB 45), approved on a 85-33 vote on predominantly party lines, puts teeth into a current state law that prohibits cities and counties for enacting stricter gun laws than the state.
It would impose financial penalties and allow elected officials to be fired for violating the law.
“This bill is not about protecting the second amendment,” argued Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. He said the bill (HB 45) simply would prevent a city or county from regulating guns, jeopardizing the safety of the community.
Republicans defended the measure as a way of making sure cities and counties comply with an existing law. In several instances, counties have enacted stricter gun laws than the state, Republicans said, and felt they could do so because there were no significant consequences for violating the state’s pre-emption law.
“The only thing this bill punishes is arrogance,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Ft. Walton Beach.
The Senate is poised to take up those same measures (SB 402, SB 432) on Wednesday, along with an NRA-supported bill that was intended to allow gun owners to “open-carry” their guns in stores and in other approved areas.
Those bills make up the NRA’s entire legislative agenda this session.
But an amendment to the open-carry bill (SB 234) approved by the NRA would water down the bill so that it would only affect a situation where a person with a concealed-weapons permit “accidentally or inadvertently” shows their gun, so long as it is not in a “rude, angry or threatening manner.”
Lobbyists for retail stores had opposed the bill because they feared allowing guns to be worn openly into stores would scare off customers. The amendment would soothe their concerns by only permitting guns to be “accidentally” shown at a store.
Hammer said she will talk with the governor about signing the NRA-backed bills once they are passed.
“I have not talked to him about the individual bills,” Hammer said. “The time to do that is when he gets them and we will have that conversation. He is super strong on the Second Amendment.”
–Lilly Rockwell, News Service of Florida