The Florida Gun Law

Gun Safety

Girl playing with handgun
Jim Corwin/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Many people thought that we had seen the end of the Florida gun law that kept pediatricians and other doctors from talking to their patients about gun safety - "The Florida Privacy of Firearm Owners Act" or "the Medical privacy concerning firearms;prohibitions; penalties; exceptions."

This is the gun law that among some other things, states that "unless information is relevant to patient's medical care or safety or safety of others, inquiries regarding firearm ownership or possession should not be made."

This Florida gun law has also been referred to as:

  • the Rick Scott gun law (since he signed it into law)
  • the guns and doctors law
  • the docs vs. glocks law
  • the don't ask gun law

Pushed by the NRA, the law was signed by Gov. Rick Scott back in June 2011, despite the opposition of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Florida Pediatric Society, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Physicians. All of these organizations had urged Gov. Scott to veto the bill and many fought the law once he did sign it.

A commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association, "Censorship of the Patient-Physician Relationship," gives a hint why they are fighting the law. The authors make the claim that Rick Scott's gun law makes an "unprecedented intrusion into the patient-physician relationship" and "will likely have a chilling effect on patient-physician discussions about the risks posed by a gun in the home, even in situations permissible under the statute."

In reviewing issues brought up by the law, the authors of the commentary found that:

  • with a gun in the home, there is a 2 to 10 fold increased risk of death from suicide, homicide, and unintentional firearm injury
  • the law puts doctors in an ethical quandary of either asking about gun ownership and risking the disciplinary action imposed by the law or abandoning their ethical obligations to their patients if they don't ask
  • the law impinges on a doctor's right to free speech

Then AAP President O. Marion Burton, MD, FAAP stated that the Florida gun bill "is a harmful, unnecessary, and unprecedented government intrusion into the patient-physician relationship. Restricting the type of conversations that physicians can have with patients not only violates physician professional standards and clearly flies in the face of our First Amendment rights to free speech, but gravely threatens the health and well-being of patients."

Also, the American Pediatric Surgical Association, in their statement on "Firearms, Children, and Health Care Professionals," recently came out in opposition, "in the strongest possible terms, state-level legislation infringing upon the physician-patient relationship."

Rick Scott Gun Law Timeline

The Rick Scott gun law had its origins in a child's visit to her pediatrician in 2010 in Ocala, Florida, a visit in which gun safety was discussed. The infant's mother thought that asking whether or not she had a gun in her home was "very invasive and a very personal question." It was so invasive and personal that she refused to answer, despite this being a common question that pediatricians ask, probably as common as asking if parents have a backyard swimming pool (drowning risk), smoke detectors, gas fueled appliances (carbon monoxide poisoning risk), or if they smoke (many health risks from second-hand smoke).

Not answering the question caused their relationship to deteriorate so much that their pediatrician asked them to find a new pediatrician and gave them 30 days to do so.

One thing quickly led to another from there, with:

  • warnings that pediatricians are pushing an anti-gun political agenda
  • talk of privacy intrusion
  • creation of conspiracy theories about the creation of databases of gun ownership in our medical records
  • warnings that pediatricians are passing moral judgement on parents and politically harassing them
  • the work of NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer (who was also behind Florida's Stand Your Ground law)

This led to the passage of this Florida gun law less than nine months later, in April 2011.

Even more quickly though, an injunction blocked Rick Scott's gun law in September 2011. A Federal judge then permanently blocked the law in June 2012.

However, that decision was reversed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which the AAP states "violates the First Amendment rights of pediatricians and threatens their ability to counsel parents about how to protect children from unintentional injury and death."

And now?

On July 28, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld the Privacy of Firearms Owners Act. In a 2-1 decision, the dissenting opinion was that the law violates the First Amendment rights of physicians. 

Fortunately, an injunction blocks enforcement of the law and the AAP "continues to advise its members in Florida and throughout the United States to uphold the standard of medical practice and ask about the presence of guns in the environments of children, and counsel families in their care about the importance of storing guns safely."

Why Talk About Guns?

Do you have a gun in your home?

Why do pediatricians ask this question?

"In a home where guns are kept, the degree of safety a child has rests squarely on the child's parents."

This isn't some anti-gun propaganda that you'll get from your pediatrician, it is from the NRA's Parents' Guide to Gun Safety brochure. They also advise that gun owners have a responsibility to "Store guns so that they are inaccessible to children and other unauthorized users. Gun shops sell a wide variety of safes, cases, and other security devices. While specific security measures may vary, a parent must, in every case, assess the exposure of the firearm and absolutely ensure that it is inaccessible to a child. "

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians routinely talk to parents about guns in their home at well child visits to remind them to keep them stored unloaded, in a secure place, with the bullets stored separately. That kind of advice might help prevent shooting tragedies, like the very recent shooting of a three-year-old in Wichita, Kansas, who unintentionally shot himself in the chest after finding a loaded gun in some kitchen cabinets in his home.

Why should pediatricians ask about guns? In addition to simply reminding parents to secure their guns and to not leave loaded guns around the house, it is a good reminder that gun safety isn't only about guns. Gun safety also has to do with child development and the fact that many children will touch and play with guns that they find, which is a big reason why there are so many shooting accidents each year, like the 3-year-old who shot himself in the chest with his father's gun a few weeks ago.

Why are so many doctors against the Rick Scott gun law?

Each week, one to two children die after they are unintentionally shot in or around their home. Many more are injured and hospitalized. These gun and shooting accidents, all tragedies, highlight the importance of learning about gun safety and discussing gun safety with your pediatrician.

Sources:

Carbone PS. Effectiveness of gun-safety counseling and a gun lock giveaway in a Hispanic community. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 01-NOV-2005; 159(11): 1049-54.

Connor SM. The association between presence of children in the home and firearm-ownership and -storage practices. Pediatrics. 01-JAN-2005; 115(1): e38-43

Connor, Susan M. "They're Too Smart for That": Predicting What Children Would Do in the Presence of Guns. Pediatrics, Feb 2003; 111: e109 - e114.

Grossman DC. Gun storage practices and risk of youth suicide and unintentional firearm injuries. JAMA - 9-FEB-2005; 293(6): 707-14

Howard PK. Parents' beliefs about children and gun safety. Pediatr Nurs - 01-SEP-2005; 31(5): 374-9

Jackman, Geoffrey A. Seeing Is Believing: What Do Boys Do When They Find a Real Gun? Pediatrics, Jun 2001; 107: 1247 - 1250.

Narang P. Do guns provide safety? At what cost? South Med J - 01-FEB-2010; 103(2): 151-3

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. WISQARS Nonfatal Injury Reports and Injury Mortality Reports. Accessed December 2012.

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