Doctors rebuked by federal appeals court after trying to invade patients’ rights by demanding to know whether they own guns
by: Daniel Barker
In the latest development regarding the so-called “Docs vs. Glocks” case, the Florida Firearm Owners Privacy Act has been upheld in the courts. In earlier rulings it was held that the act was a “valid regulation of physicians’ speech,” and that it passed the First Amendment intermediate scrutiny standard.
The law in question prevents doctors from asking a patient (or a minor patient’s parents) whether or not they own guns, unless it is relevant to their medical treatment or care.
The plaintiffs, which included three individual doctors and Florida chapters of two physicians’ associations – the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians – argued that their free speech was being violated by being prevented by a “content-based restriction.”
The court, however, ruled that doctors’ free speech rights do not extend to the examining room, and that “the law fits well within the traditional authority of the states to define and regulate the practice of medicine.”
In this latest ruling from Dec. 14, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit judges “applied the First Amendment’s strict scrutiny standard and said the provision passed constitutional muster.”
From Bloomberg BNA:
“The physicians twice have sought en banc, or full court review, by the Eleventh Circuit, but have been preempted by the panel’s decision on its own (known as sua sponte) to reconsider the issue.”
The preemptive ‘sua sponte’ review is a clear signal that the court strongly backs the earlier rulings.
“It is noteworthy that the court didn’t wait for the organized medicine juggernaut of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), and several other gun rights-hating doctor organizations to file another motion alleging stifling of free speech.
“The court seems quite confident in its determination that;
1) Florida doctors were engaging in conduct directed at damaging their patients’ civil rights
2) the legislature acted well within the Constitution by prohibiting that conduct.”
The ruling represents a significant precedent regarding the regulation of professional free speech, and how far states may go in limiting First Amendment rights when they interfere with other constitutional rights – such as the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
At least another dozen states are considering passing similar laws protecting patient privacy.
Excerpts from the court’s decision:
“The Act protects the right to keep and bear arms by protecting patients from irrelevant questioning about guns that could dissuade them from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights, questions that a patient may feel they cannot refuse to answer, given the significant imbalance of power between patient and doctor behind the closed doors of the examination room …
“These doctors’ irrelevant requests and misinformation threatened their patients’ exercise of fundamental rights, and likely those of countless others who remained silent, while their patients were in a position of great vulnerability, lacking the power to fully stand up for themselves and their rights.”
The fight is not yet over, however. The Florida physicians who oppose the law have vowed to continue challenging its legality, ignoring the age-old patient/doctor confidentiality pact in favor of a politically-motivated agenda.
This case illustrates just how far some individuals and groups are willing to go to support the anti-gun movement.
Routinely asking whether patients own guns and recording the answers is not a free speech issue. It is rather an infringement of personal privacy and individuals’ Second Amendment rights.
The Florida court made the right decision. As the Ammoland article concludes: “[W]e will have to continue to teach [doctors] that their job is to heal the sick, and not to run our lives.”