Judge blocks new gun law fought by doctorsby John Kennedy | September 14th, 2011
A Miami federal judge blocked a new Florida law Wednesday that would have barred doctors from asking patients whether they own firearms, rejecting the state’s claim that the measure was designed to protect constitutional rights to gun ownership protected by the Second Amendment.
U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke said the law — approved by the Republican-led Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott — did not affect gun rights. Instead, she found that it did potentially interfere with free speech, and the constitutional rights of doctors to inform patients.
“Laws on professional speech or occupational conduct, however, are generally directed at regulating the access or practice of a profession, not at burdening or censoring private, constitutionally protected speech on a particular subject matter,” Cooke wrote in her 22-page order.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Palm Beach County Medical Society, American Academy of Family Practitioners, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and ACLU were among those challenging the new law. Lawmakers supporting the measure, which was promoted by the National Rifle Association, said it was needed to stop anti-gun doctors from bullying patients or refusing to treat them.
“The privacy provision of the Firearms’ Ownership Privacy Act was carefully crafted to respect the First Amendment,” said Lane Wright, a Scott spokesman. “We’re pretty sure we’re going to win this one,” in later court action.
Daniel Vice, a lawyer with the Brady Center, acknowledged that the temporary injunction granted by the judge is not the final word in the case. But he said the order’s tough tone could signal that the new law is doomed.
He also said that the ruling likely blunts NRA efforts to expand the doctor prohibition into other states.
“This sends a very strong signal,” Vice said.
Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said he expected a favorable ruling. And he also said few legislators should be surprised.
“I don’t know how any of them could really think a federal court was going to let stand this kind of intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship,” Simon said.
The law took effect June 2, and the legal challenge was filed with the court a month later.
Under the law, doctors and other health care professionals could face sanctions including fines and losing their licenses if they ask patients about guns in the home without a direct belief that the inquiry is relevant to the patient’s safety or health. Pediatricians said the law keeps them from doing their jobs.
A more sweeping earlier proposal was watered down by state lawmakers to allow exceptions. Doctors could ask a person with mental problems about guns at home. But physicians still were concerned a patient could file a complaint that might lead to loss of their medical licenses and fines up to $10,000.