A decision in a federal court in Florida has upheld the right of physicians to ask their patient families about the presence of a gun in the household.
On Sept. 14, 2011, U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of a Florida law that could have penalized physicians who asked their patients and families if they had a gun in the house, and how they stored that gun. A provision of the law did allow physicians to ask about firearms if they believed it was pertinent to a patient's medical care. The judge predicted that the law would be found in violation of the First Amendment.
The Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians, along with six individual physicians, in June filed a motion asking the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Florida-Miami, to issue an injunction against the law. They claimed that it violated their First Amendment right to discuss a potentially life-saving safety issue with their patients.
After the judge issued her ruling, Dr. Linda Cosgrove, president of the Florida Pediatric Society, said, "Pediatricians simply want to do what they do best: protect children. We hope that now we will be able to get back to the business of asking parents to keep their guns, pools and poisons where they can't harm kids."
The AAP and AAFP have published guidelines encouraging physicians to discss with parents potential hazards around the home, including firearms.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs presented evidence in the case that passage of the law had in the course of a few weeks discouraged numerous physicians from broaching the topic of firearms as part of their anticipatory guidance with parents.
"Practitioners are self-censoring themselves out of fear of disciplinary action," Cooke wrote in her ruling.
The court has yet to decide whether to make permanent the injunction against enforcing the law.
Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the "Firearm Owners' Privacy Act" into law on June 2 vowed to appeal. His office issued a written statement that said, "The privacy of firearm owners legislation was carefully crafted to respect the First Amendment. We plan to appeal the judge's block, and we're confident we'll win."