3:35pm

Thu September 15, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

Judge Blocks Florida Law Curbing Doctors' Questions About Guns

The pediatricians are on a roll. A federal judge in Florida has issued an injunction blocking a state law that would make doctors think twice before asking patients about guns.

Why would your doctor or your child's doctor want to know if you have guns at home? Well, having one in the house is a health risk. And the doctors want to be able to talk over those risks, and how to mitigate them.

Through their Florida chapters, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians asked a federal judge to block a Florida law enacted this year that would have effectively barred doctors from talking with patients, or their guardians, about guns and gun safety.

The doctor groups, along with a half-dozen doctors, argued the law violated their First Amendment right to free speech.

But as Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association's lobbyist in Tallahassee, told NPR in June, "We take our children to pediatricians for medical care — not moral judgment, not privacy intrusions." The NRA helped write the law.

The doctors won in court. U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke of the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division, granted a preliminary injunction. In her analysis, she wrote:

At issue in this litigation is a law directed at maintaining patients' privacy rights regarding firearm ownership within the context of the doctor-patient relationship. In effect, however, the law curtails practitioners' ability to inquire about whether patients own firearms and burdens their ability to deliver a firearm safety message to patients, under certain circumstances.

She decided the right of doctors to free speech wouldn't interfere with gunowners' rights to bear arms. And, to the contrary, that the Florida law could chill free speech.

The court's decision "ensures that important conversations about firearm safety can continue to take place between doctors and patients," Dr. O. Marion Burton, president of the pediatricians' group said in a statement. "Parents often do not realize how easily a child can access a gun that is not locked, and we too often hear about the tragic consequences."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.