Tallahassee, FL - Doctors and other medical providers would be barred from asking patients - or the parents of child patients - if they have guns in their home under a measure that promises a major showdown between powerful lobbying groups.
The National Rifle Association’s top Florida lobbyist and a Florida Medical Association member both say the issue is among the top priorities for the session, with the groups holding diametrically opposed positions on what doctors and their patients and families should be allowed to discuss during a medical visit.
Sponsored by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, the bill (HB 155) would make it a felony for a physician or staff member to ask patients or family members of patients if they own guns or store guns at home. If found guilty, the medical provider could be fined up to $5 million or face up to five years in jail. The measure has been referred to three House committees but has yet to be scheduled.
Gun-rights groups say the measure was prompted by complaints from gun owners following an incident this summer in which an Ocala area physician told a couple to find a new pediatrician after they refused to answer questions about whether they had guns in their home and how they were stored.
Marion Hammer, executive director of United Sportsmen of Florida and a former national NRA president, said the gun rights groups have no opposition to a physician’s office handing out brochures on gun safety, but the direct questioning on whether there are guns in the home of a patient and how they store them goes too far.
“Simply, it’s none of their business,” Hammer said.
Critics of the measure say it inappropriately puts a wedge between doctors and their patients by restricting what can be discussed. They say questions regarding gun ownership and how weapons are secured within homes is much like a pediatrician asking the parents of a child if their electric outlets have protective covers, or whether their pool is fenced in.
“No other area of physician inquiry has been deemed off-limits by the Legislature,” said Naples pediatrician Dr. Scott Needle. “ Pediatricians have a right and a responsibility to ask appropriate questions as to a child's safety and well-being, even if these questions might be uncomfortable to the parents; likewise, however, no parent can be legally compelled to answer such questions.”
The bill is one of three being tracked by gun rights groups for the 2011 Legislative session. Also on the radar is a bill (HB 45) sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, which would prevent local governments and state agencies from enacting gun laws that prohibit the ownership of weapons.
Another measure (SB 234) sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, relating to the carrying and storage of firearms in vehicles.
Evers is expected to file a Senate measure similar to Brodeur’s in the weeks to come, Hammer said.