A 10-1 panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday largely dismantled Florida’s law prohibiting health care workers from asking about their patient’s firearms.
The court felt the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act, signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 after passage by the state legislature, placed health care providers at a dangerous crossroads that in the end had a chilling effect on how they could talk to their patients.
“Doctors can choose silence and self-censorship, thereby shouldering the burden of knowing they could have said more, counseled more, and warned more before a tragic accident,” says Judge Stanley Marcus in one of two majority opinions. “Or they may proceed with their speech and potentially face punishment according to the arbitrary whims of annoyed patients or a Board of Medicine that is wholly unrestrained by clear statutory guidelines.”
With only one judge, Gerald B.Tjoflat, appointed to the bench by President Nixon, dissenting with the majority, the only aspect of Florida’s law that remained intact was the tenet that doctors cannot specifically discriminate against or drop patients due to their feelings on gun rights.
Judge William Pryor wrote separately in the ruling to make the point that the majority decision was about free speech and not gun rights.
“Florida can protect its citizens from discrimination on the basis of their exercise of their right to bear arms,” says Pryor. “But the profound importance of the Second Amendment does not give the government license to violate the right to free speech under the First Amendment.”
Gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, who filed several numerous briefs urging the court to take up the case, welcomed the news from the 11th Circuit.
“This decision is a sharp rebuke for the NRA leadership, which has long sought to suppress research funding, data and speech – and in this case, to gag doctors by barring them from discussing gun safety with their patients,” said Everytown President John Feinblatt in a statement. “It is now plainly clear: Physicians do not leave their free speech rights at the clinic door.”
The case, Wollschlaeger v. Governor of the State of Florida but more popularly as “Docs vs. Glocks” may face an appeal to the Supreme Court.
“The Legislature has every right to regulate any profession to protect the public from discrimination and abuse. Doctors are businessmen, not gods,” Marion Hammer, executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida and a former National Rifle Association told Guns.com. “This activist decision attempts to use the First Amendment as a sword to terrorize the Second Amendment and completely disregards the rights and the will of the elected representatives of the people of Florida.
“Further, this Court treats gun owners as second class citizens. This is not necessarily the final word on these important issues, as the State of Florida has both legislative and appellate options to reinstate these important protections,” said Hammer.
Updated with comment from Hammer.