[UPDATE] Group Says It Will Sue Over Docs vs Guns Bill

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida; AP
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida; AP

[UPATE] June 24, 2011 --

Miami, FL (AP) - Thousands of Florida doctors and an anti-gun
violence group want a Miami federal judge to immediately block
enforcement of a new state law barring physicians from discussing
firearms with patients.

Court papers filed Friday say the law should be blocked
temporarily until a permanent decision is made on whether it's
constitutional. The doctors say the law violates free speech rights
and could result in harm to patients.

Supporters of the law say it will protect patients' privacy and
their Second Amendment right to bear arms. The law took effect June
2.

The motion for a temporary injunction blocking the law was filed
on behalf of 11,000 doctors and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun
Violence.

U.S District Judge Marcia Cooke issued no immediate decision.
The state will respond in court.

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Tallahassee, FL - Attorneys representing a trio of physicians group’s told Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday they will sue if the governor signs into law a measure that will prohibit physicians from asking many patients if they own guns.

In a last ditch effort to scuttle the bill that now sits on Scott’s desk, attorneys representing pediatricians, family practitioners and others called on the governor to veto the measure (HB 155), which they contend unconstitutionally bans discussions between patients and their practitioners who would face sanctions for asking patients if there are guns in their homes, without a direct belief that the inquiry would be relevant to the patient’s safety or health.

“Despite the critical importance of ensuring free and open exchange of information between a healthcare professional and his or her patient, (the bill) would significantly restrict the ability of health care professionals to talk to their patients about firearm safety,” attorney Bruce Manheim wrote in a letter to Scott on behalf of the Florida Chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Practitioners and the American College of Physicians.

Another major doctors’ group, the Florida Medical Association, doesn’t oppose the bill.

With a little more than a week remaining before Scott must take action, combatants are ramping up efforts to sway the governor on a measure that has pitted traditional Republican allies –gun rights activists and physicians – against one another over how closely doctors can probe into patients’ gun ownership.

Backers of the bill say some healthcare practitioners are using examinations to push anti-gun messages to their patients under the guise of a home safety questionnaire. They 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.

Critics of the bill say doctors, nurses and other practitioners typically ask patients, especially those with children, a host of questions relating to home safety including whether the patient has a backyard pool or how poisons are stored. Asking about the presence of a firearm is a natural extension of that query.

Marion Hammer, past-president of the National Rifle Association, and the most prominent gun rights lobbyist in Florida, doesn’t buy the argument and has urged members to contact lawmakers and the governor’s office to ensure passage of the bill. Hammer, who testified repeatedly on this and other gun-related issues during the 2011 session, said that unlike pool ownership or a closet full of drain cleaner, gun ownership is a constitutionally protected right.

“As parents, we are responsible for our children's safety. We don't need doctors pushing their anti-gun politics on us or our children,” Hammer wrote in an email to members of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida. “We need them to spend their time practicing medicine and not prying into our personal lives on issues that have nothing to do with disease, its cure, or its eradication.”

The bill originally included stiff criminal and civil penalties for practitioners who overstepped their authority. Prompted by criticism from the FMA and others, it was modified to remove the severe sanctions and allow physicians to ask such questions if they believe it is in the medical best interest of their patients. Such changes prompted the FMAs to withdraw its opposition to the bill. When contacted Thursday, the FMA declined comment.


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