Court tosses Florida 'Docs vs. Glocks' law

The law, which restricted doctors from discussing guns and gun safety with patients, was ruled unconstitutional because it violated doctors' First Amendment rights.
By Stephen Feller  |  Updated Feb. 17, 2017 at 7:12 AM
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Feb. 16 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court tossed out a Florida law restricting doctors from discussing guns and gun safety with their patients, on grounds that such restrictions are a violation of the First Amendment.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Thursday issued a ruling striking down the so-called Docs vs. Glocks law on free speech grounds because it is unconstitutional to prevent doctors from discussing gun safety.

The ruling also struck down a restriction to prevent information about patients' gun ownership from being recorded in medical records, though it retained a portion of the law preventing doctors from refusing to see patients if they own guns.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health are mostly banned from funding research into gun-related injuries and deaths -- so information cannot be collected for studies -- but the medical community advises doctors to talk about gun safety in homes with children for the same reason they talk about pool safety.

The court wrote that, because the purpose of doctor conversations about guns was perceived as related to safety, and doctors don't have the ability to stop people from obtaining guns, the law is unnecessary.

"There was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida Legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients' firearms or otherwise infringed on patients' Second Amendment rights," Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote in the court's decision.

The law was enacted in 2011 after state legislators reported hearing stories about doctors "harassing" patients about gun ownership, including one Ocala couple who claimed a doctor refused to continue treating them when they declined to talk about firearms.

Although the law included a provision for doctors to speak with patients about guns if they feel it is absolutely necessary for their safety or health, the law immediately spurred a lawsuit. A judge in Miami overturned the law in 2012, but the 11th Circuit reversed the decision in 2014.

The plaintiffs then asked for the entire court to rule on the case, winning the 8-to-3 decision delivered Thursday in Miami.

While the ruling can still be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, those representing doctors and patients in favor of conversations about gun safety said the ruling is a move in the right direction for decreasing gun injuries and death.

"We are thrilled that the court has finally put to bed the nonsensical and dangerous idea that a doctor speaking with a patient about gun safety somehow threatens the right to own a gun," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. "This was a dangerous free speech restriction, especially for the health and lives of children."

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