Fed Court: Doctors Can Ask About Guns

Fed Court: Doctors Can Ask About Guns
What's known as the "Docs vs. Glocks Law" in Florida was just overturned by a Federal Appeals court.web photo

Back in 2011, Florida lawmakers passed a law that restricted doctors from asking about gun ownership. The ensuing, highly publicized court case that decided in favor of gun owners was dubbed “Docs vs. Glocks.” Now, that decision has been overturned by a federal appeals court.

The law in question is officially called the Firearms Owners’ Privacy Act and it forbids doctors from asking routine questions about their patients’ gun ownership, unless that information was deemed relevant to patient care or the safety of others. The law also barred doctors from noting in medical records whether or not patients owned firearms. Patients could also report doctors for unnecessarily harassing them about gun ownership.

The law came as the result of several highly publicized cases, including an incident in which a health professional privately asked children if their mother owned guns and Ocala pediatrician who dropped a patient in 2010 after she called his questions about her gun ownership an invasion of privacy, according to this story from The Washington Post.

Not long after the law was signed, doctors challenged it in court. The case became known as "Doc vs. Glocks" and wound its way through the state and federal court system for six years, until it came to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. The court ruled that the matter was not one of the Second Amendment, which protects the right to bear arms, but of the First Amendment.

The court ruled in a 10 to 1 decision that the law infringed upon doctors' freedom of speech, the Post story says.

The 90-page opinion, which you can read in its entirety here, says the law placed health care providers at a dangerous crossroads that, int he end, had an effect on how they could talk to their patients, according to this story from guns.com.

"Doctors can choose silence and self-censorship, thereby shouldering the burden of knowing they could have said more, counseled more, and warned more before a tragic accident," says Judge Stanley Marcus in one of two majority opinions. "Or they may proceed with their speech and potentially face punishment according to the arbitrary whims of annoyed patients or a Board of Medicine that is wholly unrestrained by clear statutory guidelines."

The only dissenting judge was Gerald B. Tjoflat, who was appointed to the bench by President Richard Nixon. The only aspect of the law that remains in tact was the tenet that doctors cannot specifically discriminate against or drop patients due to their feelings on gun rights, the guns.com story says.

Also remaining are the provisions allowing patients to decline to answer questions about guns and prohibiting health insurance companies from denying coverage or increasing premiums for people who lawfully own guns, according to this story from nbcnews.com.

“Florida can protect its citizens from discrimination on the basis of their exercise of their right to bear arms,” said Judge Richard Pryor. “But the profound importance of the Second Amendment does not give the government license to violate the right to free speech under the First Amendment.”

"We are thrilled that the court has finally put to bed the nonsensical and dangerous idea that a doctor speaking with a patient about gun safety somehow threatens the right to own a gun," said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, in the nbcnews.com story.