Friday, February 17, 2017

U.S. Appeals Court Upholds Doctors Right to Ask Patients About Gun Ownership

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld a lower federal court ruling against Florida’s Firearms Owners Privacy Act, which sought to restrict discussions by physicians and other medical professionals about firearm safety.

The 2011 law included penalties for physicians who routinely asked patients and their families if they owned firearms. The Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), other medical groups, and six individual physicians challenged the law as a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.

“We are pleased with the 11th Circuit’s common-sense decision, which allows physicians the right to counsel families on firearms ownership and storage,” said Madeline Joseph, M.D., president of the Florida chapter of the AAP, in a statement.

APA, along with the AMA and numerous other medical groups, filed an amicus brief supporting the pediatricians, stating that discussion of gun safety is a legitimate public health concern and the law violates physician and patient First Amendment rights.

“Careful history-taking about firearm access is the cornerstone of risk assessment in vulnerable patients,” said Marvin Swartz, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University and chair of APA’s Committee on Judicial Action. “This long-awaited ruling from the Florida appeals court defends the free speech physicians must exercise to appropriately care for their patients and preserves the privacy of the physician-patient relationship without the unwarranted intrusion of a political agenda.”

The decision is likely to be appealed.

For more on APA’s role in Wollschlaeger et al., versus Governor, State of Florida, see the Psychiatric News article “APA Weighs In on Cases Where Law Intersects With Psychiatry.”

(Image: iStock/Peter Hermes Furian)


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