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Court upholds physicians' right to discuss guns.

A U.S. District Court judge has granted a preliminary injunction that stops Florida from enforcing a new law barring physicians from asking their patients about firearms ownership, saying that the law may be unconstitutional and has a good chance of being overturned.

The injunction, granted by Judge Marcia Cooke, immediately prevents the state from pursuing disciplinary action against physicians who inquire about firearms in the home and counsel on firearms-injury prevention.

The Florida law, passed last spring and signed by Gov. Rick Scott (R) in June, forbids licensed health care practitioners from asking about gun ownership unless the practitioner believes "in good faith" that the information is relevant to patients' and family members' medical care or safety.

Under the law, physicians and other health care practitioners also cannot record information on firearms in patients' medical records.

Violators of the law could be subject to state medical board disciplinary action and sanctions.

The Florida chapters of the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians, along with six individual Florida physicians, filed suit in June against the law, saying it substantially curtails their First Amendment rights to exchange information with patients about gun safety. The judge agreed.

"Plaintiffs state that, as a result of the law, they are no longer (i) asking patients about firearm ownership, (ii) following up on routine questions regarding firearm ownership, (iii) providing patient intake questionnaires that include questions about firearms, or (iv) orally counseling patients about firearm safety," Judge Cooke wrote in her injunction.

In a statement, ACP President Virginia L. Hood noted that that the college's policy encourages physicians to "inform patients about the dangers of keeping firearms, particularly handguns, in the home and to advise them on ways to reduce the risk of injury. However, this issue is much bigger than guns, it is about whether the government or any other body should be allowed to tell physicians what they can and can't discuss with their patients."

Proponents of the Florida law have argued that it represents a Second Amendment issue involving the right to bear arms. However, Judge Cooke disagreed, calling it a First Amendment--or freedom of speech--issue instead.

"A practitioner who counsels a patient on firearm safety, even when entirely irrelevant to medical care or safety, does not affect nor interfere with the patient's right to continue to own, possess, or use firearms," she wrote.
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Author:Anderson, Jane
Publication:Internal Medicine News
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Oct 1, 2011
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