On June 2, 2011, Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law House Bill 155, The Privacy of Firearms Owners Act, which in the state of Florida would, according to the National Rifle Association, “stop pediatricians from invading privacy rights of gun owners and bringing anti-gun politics into medical examining rooms.”  The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Florida Pediatric Society urged Gov. Scott to veto HB 155 to no avail. The penalty for asking a patient about gun ownership? A $500 fine and loss of medical licensure.  A lawsuit against the governor of Florida, surgeon general and Department of Health and Human Services of Florida was subsequently filed by the Florida chapters of the AAP, American Academy of Family Physicians and American College of Physicians, along with six individual physicians.  In September 2011, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke (Southern District of Florida-Miami) issued a temporary injunction when she found HB 155 unconstitutional, stating that it violated the First Amendment rights of physicians and patients and in no way impacted the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.  On June 29, 2012, the same U.S. District Court permanently upheld the injunction and again found HB 155 unconstitutional.  This led to the Florida Attorney General’s Office and the State of Florida appealing the permanent injunction on June 30, 2012, to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

Fast forward to July 25, 2014. The 11th U.S. Court of Appeals (see the court locator) last week, in a three-judge panel decision that was 2-1, ruled in favor of HB 155 and the State of Florida, upholding the law and stating that “the practice of good medicine does not require interrogation about irrelevant, private matters.”  The decision also stated that “the Act is a legitimate regulation of professional conduct.” 

The American Medical Association has commented on this recent ruling, and, as many physicians would concur, feels that this ruling interferes with the patient-physician relationship.  Children are often at risk in homes where loaded, unlocked guns are readily available, and if physicians can’t discuss this issue with parents or grandparents, significant and unnecessary harm may be the unfortunate outcome.  Nine children and youth are shot every day in gun accidents.  Eighty percent of unintentional firearm deaths of children under the age of 15 happen in a home, as recently quoted in The Boston Globe.

So where will this story go from here?  The American Academy of Pediatrics has condemned the 11th Circuit Court panel ruling.  For the sake of the safety of patients and children, the plaintiffs will petition the court for a rehearing by the full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.  If that falls short, then, hopefully, the case goes to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Justice Clarence Thomas is the circuit justice for the 11th Circuit.  Other states, including our own, need to follow this closely and weigh in on what happens next.  Our New Hampshire Medical Society has traditionally opposed the “legislation of medicine,” and this case does exactly that.  For the immediate future, the injunction against the law is still in effect.

Are you mad as hell about this ruling and not going to take it anymore?  Then get involved, open your windows, pick up the phone, call your state and federal representatives, send an email and tell them how common sense and patient safety must prevail.  The NRA is certainly going to be making calls about this ruling.  What is the most basic right of all?  The right not to be killed.

As a follow-up to last week’s blog, I forgot to mention that my dad lives in Florida.

Regards,

Stuart J. Glassman, MD

Please send your comments or questions to president@nhms.org or post a comment below.

 

Comments

I am confused on the point about the NHMS traditionally opposing "legislation of medicine." I must not have heard the outcry from the NHMS regarding the "legislation of medicine" when it came to the ACA which should be considered "uber legislation of medicine" nor did I hear any high pitched wailing regarding the local legislation of medicine in the form of expanded Medicaid. Selective opposition of "legislation of medicine" is agenda driven and is cast aside or wrapped around an issue like an American Flag when it supports the thought leaders in any organization...including ours.

Unfortunately, we as physicians often take a position as if we have all the answers and demean our patients with our questions and demands. In the case of firearm ownership, our attitude that all guns are bad may have caused some citizens to feel threatened by our motives and presentation when advising about the presence of firearms and that associated risk. Our taking a non-judgmental stance and recognizing that the possession of firearms is important to many. The unfortunate position of the governmental position and the presentation by the media can place any questions regarding firearms in the position as a threatening attack. Our solution is now that of which we perhaps should have considered in the first place and is to take the role of an impartial adviser and educator. We can become knowledgeable about and make recommendations for appropriate security for our patients. A firearm for home defense is useless if unloaded, disassembled, and locked in a combination safe. However, a loaded firearm in a secured, biometric safe is both protected and available in that unfortunate scenario in which our patients experience the need to defend themselves in a home invasion. Yes, not all our patients have six figure incomes and live in secure housing and safe neighborhoods. Appreciating that fact and working with these folks will allow us to reestablish a relationship with the majority of Americans who support gun ownership and are our patients. It is through our relationship with people that we can best learn what is important to them and thus offer the support that fits their needs.

Stuart, Thanks for another great piece on gun safety. If this misguided Florida law is picked up by the New Hampshire legislature, I'm confident the New Hampshire Medical Society will have our patients and physicians backs on this issue. Travis