Doctors Pressure Florida Gun Decision

In an effort to keep politics out of medical examination rooms, Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed, what is commonly referred to as the, “Guns and Doctors Bill” into law.  The law, which was passed by the Florida State Senate 27-10, took effect on June 2 and forbids physicians from asking about a patient’s firearms unless it is “relevant to a patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others.” 

The legislation was conceived after reports surfaced detailing the discriminatory actions of doctors when patients refused to answer questions regarding their position(s) on guns.  The most notable case was the “Ocala incident,” where a young mother was dropped by her doctor’s practice for not disclosing information related to gun ownership.

Shortly after the law was passed, several groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Florida Pediatric Society, which represent approximately 11,000 physicians, filed a lawsuit and requested a federal judge to block the law.  The law is currently being reviewed in federal court. 

In the wake of the ongoing legal battle, doctors across the country are speaking out against the law.  Dr. Ian Foster told the Pocono Record, “I think it’s a very, very bad idea.  My asking if a patient owns guns has nothing to do with the right to bear arms.”  He continued in his interview, “People need to be aware that guns can be dangerous if misused.  It’s like us not asking people if they have risk factors for hepatitis or HIV or if they don’t have smoke detectors or wear seat belts – they’re all totally appropriate questions and are asked with the best interest of the patient in mind.”  According to the Pocono Record, Dr. Foster is an avid hunter and has a family practice in Shawnee-on-Delaware.

Supporters of the law contend that the its main purpose is to eliminate discrimination, not disrupt or mar patient-doctor relations.  

In court documents the NRA stated, “Gun owners can rest assured that doctors who ask them about the subject and record their answers are motivated by a good faith belief that the information is relevant to the patient’s care and well-being, and not by an ideological or other non-medical agenda… Their patients have an equal right to hold contrary views and to be protected from harassment.” 

Despite the professed intent of the law by its supporters, some doctors see the law as an unnecessary form of censorship.  Dr. Chris Imber, who was also commented for the Pocono Record, stated, “I err on the side of personal freedom and protection over restriction every day of the week.  Anything that goes against talking about something can lead to no good.  When you restrict speech of any kind, there’s always a flip side to your intentions.”

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