Florida Doctors Defend Right To Ask Patients About Guns

June 7, 2011 10:46 a.m.

A group of Florida doctors filed a federal lawsuit Monday, pushing back on legislation preventing them from freely discussing gun ownership with their patients.

As TPM reported in May, a Florida bill would limit doctors’ ability to ask their patients if they own guns. The law would allow doctors to ask patients about guns if they feel it’s relevant to the patient’s safety. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed the bill into law last week.The National Rifle Association, whose lobbyists helped write the bill, says doctors asking patients about firearms in the home infringes on Second Amendment rights. Conversely, the doctors’ lawsuit centers on the bill’s restrictions on doctors’ ability to speak freely with patients:

This action seeks to protect the rights that Florida healthcare practitioners have under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to engage in open and free exchanges of information and advice with their patients about ways to reduce the safety risks posed by firearms.

This action also seeks to protect the First Amendment rights of patients throughout Florida to receive such information and advice from their physicians. The Florida law challenged in this action (hereinafter, the “Physician Gag Law”) chills this speech and would punish health care professionals simply for asking questions of, and providing information to, their patients about firearm safety.

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.

Lane Wright, press secretary for Gov. Scott, defends the law, saying some people “misunderstand” what it does.

“HB 155 prohibits a licensed health care practitioner or licensed health care facility from intentionally entering any disclosed information concerning firearm ownership into a patient’s health record or inquiring about firearms or ammunition ownership if the information is not relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others,” Wright told TPM in an email. “I think that last part is what some people miss.”

“The law ensures respect for a patient’s right to own or possess a firearm and protects them from potential discrimination and harassment in cases where it is not relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of anyone else in the home,” he added.

Read the full complaint below:

Lawsuit defending doctors’ right to ask patients about firearms

The TPM Journalism Fund: A New Way To Support TPM
We're launching the TPM Journalism Fund as an additional way for readers and members to support TPM. Every dollar contributed goes toward:
  • -Hiring More Journalists
  • -Providing free memberships to those who cannot afford them
  • -Supporting independent, non-corporate journalism
Are you experiencing financial hardship?
Apply for a free community-supported membership
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Senior Editor:
Special Projects Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Publishing Associate:
Front-End Developer:
Senior Designer: