Health care lobby comes out swinging on North Dakota concealed carry reform (VIDEO)

A North Dakota bill to expand where concealed carry permit holders can go while prohibiting physicians from asking questions on guns is facing opposition from health care lobbyists.

In addition to opening places such as churches, concerts, public parks and political rallies, which are currently off limits to permit holders, it also bars doctors and other healthcare workers from asking their patients about firearms ownership.

The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee were debating the measure Thursday, when member organizations representing the health care lobby in the state spoke out solidly against its passage as written.

“Not asking about firearms sets up a physician for malpractice while violating their First Amendment right to free speech,” Courtney Koebele, executive director of the North Dakota Medical Association told the committee, the Associated Press reported. “Simply stated, imposing this provision puts physicians in a perilous position and patients at risk.”

The legislation, HB1241, is sponsored by Minot Republican Rep. Roscoe Streyle.

It aims to modify no less than six sections of the state code to allow for numerous pro-gun reforms. Among these would allow hunters with otherwise legal National Firearms Act-complaint short-barreled rifles to use their guns to harvest game, and authorizing the carry of a loaded firearm in a vehicle.

Next, the bill allows concealed carry permit holders to remain armed in establishments that serve liquor as long as they do not consume alcoholic beverages themselves, as well as carry in churches, political rallies or functions, and musical concerts. Currently these are off limits under threat of a Class B misdemeanor, which under North Dakota law carries a penalty of up to 30 days’ imprisonment and a maximum of $1,000 in fines. The law would still allow a prohibition against concealed carry at schools, inside public buildings, and sporting events.

The most controversial issue with HB1241, which brought not only the NDMA but also the medical director of the state Department of Human Services to Thursday’s meeting in opposition, shuts the doors to health care workers from asking their patients about the contents of their gun safe. The language of the proposed legislation strictly forbids inquiring about the patient’s ownership or possession of firearms that are not physically on the patient at the time.

Committee chair Todd Porter spoke up during the hearing about a recent visit with a healthcare provider who quizzed him on gun ownership, saying, “I don’t think he had the right to ask me those questions. It made me mad.”

The subject of doctors and guns has evolved wound its way through state legislatures, federal courts, and the steps of Capitol Hill in the past several years.

In 2011, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, signed the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act into law that discouraged health care workers to ask patients questions about firearms that were not directly relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety. Violations of the law could trigger fines, restriction of practice, return of fees, probation, and suspension or revocation a health care professional’s medical license by the state.

The Florida law was challenged successfully in federal court by the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics in what became known as the “Docs vs Glocks” case only to be overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit last July.

Extending to Washington, gun rights groups and the health care lobby squared off over President Obama’s nomination for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy for more than a year due to that candidate’s political activism, which included gun control. However, a lame duck Senate eventually confirmed Murthy last month in a 51-43 vote largely along party lines.

House Bill 1241 is still under review by the committee.

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