Tallahassee, FL - Doctors would still be able to ask patients questions about whether they have guns in many cases under a measure approved by a Senate committee on Monday, a result of a compromise between gun rights groups and the medical establishment.
The National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups had pushed for a much stronger bill that would have precluded doctors in many cases from asking patients about whether they own guns. Backers of the measure, sponsored, by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, had said patients were being harassed over gun ownership.
But citing the confidentiality of what is said between doctors and patients, and a broader desire to protect other members of patients’ families, doctors had pushed back hard against the bill (SB 432). The issue had promised a fight between two of the most powerful lobbies at the Florida Capitol.
But an amendment adopted before the committee’s vote on Monday would now generally allow doctors to ask questions about gun ownership, as long as the physician doesn’t “harass” the patient, and doesn’t enter the information into the patient’s record without a good reason. That leaves enough room that doctors now support the measure, as does the NRA.
“We have an agreed-to, good bill here,” said Evers.
While the committee advanced the bill, four members, two Republicans and two Democrats, said they still were uncomfortable with anything that would give doctors pause about asking questions about safety issues, and voted against it.
“I am concerned this degrades and diminishes the doctor-patient relationship,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. “A doctor should ask about safety in the home whether it’s pool safety, helmet safety or gun safety.”
Sen. Mike Bennett said his opposition was personal – because of his own experience as a child with a father who “chased his wife around” the House with a gun.
“I’ve been there, done that,” said Bennett, R-Bradenton.
“What about the patients’ children? What about the patient’s wife getting a beating every Saturday night?” Bennett asked.
Evers said the new version of the legislation would take care of that concern – allowing doctors to ask questions now, if they feel there’s a valid reason.
“There has to be a justification (however),” said the sponsor of the compromise amendment, Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera. “The doctor can’t do it arbitrarily.”
The bill also no longer carries any civil or criminal penalties, leaving it up to professional medical boards to police the requirement.
The compromise appeared necessary to get the proposal moving – the bill had been stalled in the Health Regulation Committee for more than two weeks, and even some who voted for it on Monday expressed some skepticism.
The bill still has two more committee stops in the Senate, but Evers gave the panel his commitment that only minor changes would be made in those committees, and that the bill wouldn’t revert to its former form. A similar House bill (HB 155) still has two committee stops there.