1. Opinion

Editorial: Free speech wins in docs vs. glocks

A federal appeals court struck down key provisions of an unnecessary 2011 law that restricted doctors from asking patients about firearms ownership.
A federal appeals court struck down key provisions of an unnecessary 2011 law that restricted doctors from asking patients about firearms ownership.
Published Feb. 17, 2017

For sound medical reasons, doctors commonly ask patients about safety issues: gates around swimming pools, locks on cabinets containing poisons, and yes, guns in the home. A 2011 state law twisted those commonsense precautions into a fabricated assault on the Second Amendment and restricted doctors from asking patients about firearm ownership. This week, a federal appeals court identified the real infringement — limiting the free speech rights of doctors — and struck down key provisions of this unnecessary law.

The Firearm Owners' Privacy Act, nicknamed "Docs vs. Glocks," was prompted by a handful of complaints from gun owners whose doctors had asked questions the patients perceived as harassing. One Ocala mother said a doctor refused to treat her child after she refused to answer. Nothing requires patients to answer any questions from a doctor, and the law already provides protection for people whose doctors sever their relationship. But with aggressive backing from the National Rifle Association, the Legislature overreacted and created disciplinary and financial penalties for doctors who ask patients about gun ownership beyond what is "relevant" to medical care or safety. The statute also sought to prevent doctors from putting information about gun ownership in medical records, and from discriminating against patients or "harassing" them for owning firearms.

"The first problem," the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in its 8-3 decision, "is that there was no evidence whatsoever ... that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients' firearms or otherwise infringed on patients' Second Amendment rights." Of course there wasn't. Doctors have no authority to take anyone's gun away. Just asking about guns in a home — which follows guidance from the American Medical Association about assessing safety risks — is not an infringement of the right to bear arms. In other words, the court wrote, there's "no actual conflict" between the First Amendment free speech rights of doctors and the Second Amendment gun rights of patients.

Don't tell that to Marion Hammer, the longtime NRA lobbyist in Tallahassee. She accused the court of using the First Amendment "as a sword to terrorize the Second Amendment" and declaring that it "completely disregards the rights and the will of the elected representatives of the people of Florida." That would be the elected representatives who long ago made it a crime to fail to secure firearms that could be accessed by minors. The elected representatives who inscribed in Florida law that a "tragically large number of Florida children have been accidentally killed or seriously injured by negligently stored firearms; that placing firearms within the reach or easy access of children is irresponsible, encourages such accidents, and should be prohibited; and that legislative action is necessary to protect the safety of our children."

The Firearm Owners' Privacy Act risks the safety of children by preventing doctors from making routine inquiry of parents about whether their handguns are properly stored and locked. That's sensible preventive medicine, not a gun grab, and the federal appeals court saw right through it.


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