The issue of gun safety and whether or not doctors should know about their patients' use of firearms has become a controversial issue. A few years ago, Florida decided to tackle the issue head on. Since then, the Sunshine State has attempted to solve this complex issue.
In 2011, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 155, the Firearm Owners Privacy Act, which encouraged doctors to refrain from asking patients about guns in their homes. If a doctor violated the law, they could lose their license and face a $10,000 fine.
According to the National Rifle Association, the bill was necessary because physicians who discussed firearms with their patients had to place information in medical records, which created a de facto gun database. By getting doctors to not ask patients about guns, legislators hoped to eliminate the so-called database.
The National Rifle Association's legislative arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, sent out a legal alert that informed Floridians that H.B. 155 "says doctors should refrain from asking about gun ownership by patients or family members unless the doctors believe in 'good faith' that the information is relevant to medical care or safety. Also, the law seeks to prevent doctors from discriminating against patients or 'harassing' them because of owning firearms."
Doctors across the state decided to sue, saying it was in their patients' best interest if their physicians discussed gun safety with them. The lawsuit, often referred to as "Docs vs. Glocks," sought to challenge the legality of H.B. 155.
In 2012, a federal district judge issued an injunction against the law, which kept it from going into effect.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals twice upheld the law — first in July 2014 and again in July 2015 — before the full appellate court decided to take up the case this year.
“The purpose of the act, as we read it, is not to protect patient privacy by shielding patients from any and all discussion about firearms with their physicians; the act merely requires physicians to refrain from broaching a concededly sensitive topic when they lack any good-faith belief that such information is relevant to the medical care or safety of their patients or others,’’ Judges Gerald Tjoflat and L. Scott Coogler wrote in their majority opinion for the second ruling.
Judge Charles Wilson, however, disagreed with the ruling. According to Wilson, doctors' First Amendment rights were violated by the law.
"Simply put, the act is a gag order that prevents doctors from even asking the first question in a conversation about firearms,'' Wilson wrote in his dissenting opinion. "The act prohibits or significantly chills doctors from expressing their views and providing information to patients about one topic and one topic only, firearms."
The law was challenged again in February. In a 10-1 decision, the full 11th Circuit sided with the doctors and overturned the law. The court said the doctors could not be punished for speaking about firearms safety with their patients. This was the second time the law was challenged and upheld in federal court.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has approved a settlement plan, which will see the Sunshine State pay $1.1 million in legal fees to the lawyers who represented the doctors, the New York Times reported Monday.
"Florida taxpayers just paid $1.1 million because of the gun industry's unconstitutional, anti-truth agenda designed to increase gun sales at any cost — including children's lives. The gun lobby wants Americans to believe a gun in the home makes them safer, but 89 percent of unintentional shooting deaths of children occur in the home, often because of easily accessibility of unlocked, loaded guns," Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement. "Physicians have a critical role to play in preventing these deaths by talking to patients about the true dangers of guns in the home, and we will not allow their voices to be silenced by the gun industry. This award is a message to states to think twice before enacting or defending laws that put lives at risk just to boost the gun industry’s bottom line."
The NRA wasted no time refuting the claims.
"Our opponents wouldn't recognize the truth if it pinched them on the nose," NRA lobbyist and former President Marion Hammer told TheBlaze. "Just because some activists judges agreed with them doesn't make them right."
Lawyers from Ropes & Gray represented the doctors as part of a Brady Campaign effort. The law firm has decided to give $100,000 of their settlement award to the Brady Campaign to "help promote gun safety."
Scott's legal team defended the governor's record on the Second Amendment and said the settlement was approved based on a recommendation to his office from the Department of Financial Services, the Times reported.