TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate on Thursday, by a succession of mostly party-line votes, approved a trio of bills that supporters say will ensure citizens' constitutionally-protected gun rights.
One measure restricts doctors from asking patients about gun ownership, and another prohibits local governments from passing stricter gun laws than the state. Those two already have been approved by the House and await Republican Gov. Rick Scott's signature.
The third, which began life as a proposed "open carry" law, was modified to decriminalize the accidental showing of a concealed weapon. It goes to the House, which is expected to also approve it.
The guns and doctors bill has drawn the most national attention, with the American Academy of Pediatrics saying it will interfere with patient care.
"Pediatricians don't need to be muzzled discussing this issue with our patients," said Dr. Louis St. Petery, a Tallahassee pediatrician who appeared on CNN's Anderson Cooper show in January to speak against the bill. "This simply means that more children will be injured and killed by firearms."
Other critics have previously said doctors need to talk about gun safety especially when there are small children in a home, and have likened it to asking a parent about a pool to make sure there's a fence around it.
That argument didn't sit well with State Sen. Greg Evers, the Baker Republican who sponsored the bills.
"I don't believe it says in the Constitution that you have the right to own a pool," he said. "This is about protecting and affirming our Second Amendment rights."
The bill was sparked by an Ocala pediatrician who told a mother to find another doctor when she refused to answer questions about guns in her home. Though supporters don't know for sure how many other times such an incident has occurred in the state, they said once is enough.
The final version of that bill was a compromise between the Florida Medical Association and the National Rifle Association. It bans doctors from asking about the presence of guns or ammunition in the home, but allows a good-faith exception for concerns about the safety of the patient or of others.
It also prohibits noting gun ownership in a patient record if it's not relevant to care.
St. Petery said the new language in the bill did not go far enough to protect physicians.
"We feel very strongly that this will make primary-care providers feel uncomfortable talking about guns with families, and will in fact have a chilling effect on doctors who want to discuss firearm safety," he said.
Another of the bills originally intended to make Florida an open-carry state, but representatives of retail businesses and law enforcement said in committee meetings that they worried about the likely "Wild West" effect on the state's image.
That bill also had a section allowing guns on college campuses, but it was removed after objections from students, parents and campus police chiefs.
The soon-to-be law now decriminalizes "accidentally or inadvertently display(ing a) firearm to the ordinary sight of another person so long as the firearm is not displayed in a rude, angry, or threatening manner."
Former NRA president and longtime guns-rights activist Marion Hammer said she and others were primarily concerned about people getting charged for accidentally showing their otherwise-legal concealed weapon.
A person with a concealed weapon permit could be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor for inadvertently showing his or her weapon. Evers and Hammer have said there were examples of wind blowing a man's sport coat open, or a woman opening her purse to get her wallet.
"The open-carry language was put in the bill to protect people who were being abused because of purely inadvertent exposure (of their firearm)," Hammer said. "Now, we finally found a way that we think may work. If it doesn't, we'll be back (next year)."
The final measure prohibits cities and counties from regulating guns and ammunition, leaving that solely to the state. Proponents, including state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said they were worried about local governments passing gun control laws stricter that state legislation.
Under the state constitution, however, counties still can require a background check and a 3- to 5-day waiting period involving a gun sale in a particular county.
The accidental display bill (SB 234) was approved by a vote of 26-11. The bill banning local gun control laws (HB 45, substituted for SB 402) passed 30-8. The guns and doctors bill (HB 155, substituted for SB 432) was approved 27-10.