The full panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit struck down the Florida law restricting physicians from speaking to patients and families about the risks of guns in the home. The case, Wollschlaeger v. Scott, was filed on June 6, 2011, challenged the Florida law, which could censor, fine and revoke the licenses of physicians if the Florida Board of Medicine determined whether the physician violated the law.
The American Medical Association along with several other major medical societies opposed the gun-gag law arguing it infringed on the First Amendment right of physicians to discuss gun safety, especially when patients have children who may happen across a loaded, unsecured firearm in the home. The law banned asking gun ownership questions except when deemed clinically necessary and forbade physicians from recording whether a patient owned a weapon in the medical chart claiming that the question was discriminating and harassing of gun owners.
“There was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients’ firearms or otherwise infringed on patients’ Second Amendment rights,” the court said, noting that lawmakers based their measure on six anecdotes about medical gun questions in a state with more than 18 million residents. “There is no actual conflict between the First Amendment rights of doctors and medical professionals and the Second Amendment rights of patients that justifies FOPA’s…restrictions on speech.”
The continuation of the law would have prohibited a simple conversation in the physician’s office that can save lives. Research has shown that when physicians offer guidance on gun locks and safe storage, appropriate to a child’s specific age and development, it is more likely that families will take those necessary steps.
“Pediatricians routinely counsel families about safety issues, including firearm safety, as part of anticipatory guidance, in order to reduce risk of injury to children,” said Cathy Wood, M.D., FAAP, president of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Florida’s ‘gun’ law was an assault on physicians’ right to counsel their patients. We are thankful for this court decision and the hard work of the pediatricians and other physicians in Florida that worked to protect this right, not just in Florida but hopefully for all states.”