In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, President Obama and other anti-gun advocates have called for changing Florida’s pro-Second Amendment laws. Their chances of getting the “stand your ground” statute overturned are slim, but the anti-gun groups are making significant progress in the Sunshine State in allowing activist doctors to push their agenda to disarm families.
A federal appeals court heard oral arguments on July 18 in the case that has become known as “Docs vs. Glocks.” The issue before the court is whether a patient’s right to privacy and protection from doctors who ask inappropriate political questions about what firearms are in the family home trumps the health care providers’ rights to ask and to keep records of whatever they want.
The Firearm Owners Privacy Act, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law in June 2011, says that doctors should not ask families about whether they own guns. But if they choose to do so, and a patient feels the doctor has harassed or discriminated against them, he can file a complaint with the medical board so that the doctor’s peers can decide if the accusation is legitimate.
“The wording in the law is ‘should refrain,’” Florida Solicitor General Allen Winsor told the justices of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to The Associated Press.”It’s not mandating anything. It’s recommending. The use of the term is critical in this case.”
The issue came about after repeated cases surfaced of children being asked by doctors if there was a gun in the home. During the legislative process, one mother said her pediatrician refused to continue treating her child if she did not respond to questions about firearms at home.
A family reported being told that it was “a Medicaid necessity … to answer a firearms question.” Some parents said they were asked to leave the examining room so that the doctor could force their child to inform on them in secret.
The Brady Campaign is leading the plaintiffs — including the Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians — in the lawsuit, which claims the law violates doctors’ First Amendments rights to speak freely with their patients. U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke agreed with the freedom of speech claim and granted an injunction and then overturned the law in 2012.
The doctors groups’ justification that they are just providing medical care to parents does not hold water, as the lead plaintiffs in the case are rabidly anti-gun. The American Academy of Pediatrics gives this “advice to parents” on its website: “Do not purchase a gun, especially a handgun. Remove all guns present in the home.” It also instructed those who refuse to obey that they should “always keep the gun unloaded and locked up. Lock and store the bullets in a separate place.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA) helped push the law through the Florida Legislature in 2011. “A doctor’s job is to treat sick children and tell parents how to take care of sick children. They are not home monitors,” Marion Hammer, the NRA’s former president and currently the head of its Florida operation told me in an interview. “Their position that they have to counsel people on how to store firearms or to get rid of firearms because they are not safe is patently absurd.”
A key concern of the state and pro-gun groups is whether the doctors’ records would be shared with insurance companies and the federal government. U.S. Circuit Judge Gerald Tjoflat asked the plaintiffs’ attorney about how a list of gun owners could be used. “It goes to Uncle Sam in Washington. You understand my concern,” the judge said, according to The Associated Press. “You can put it in a computer and spit out everybody who owns a gun.”
The Brady Campaign must have gotten scared that point would influence the three-judge panel, because it filed a document with the court on Friday that insisted that “any concern that the federal government will use patient records to compile a gun registry is unsupported and does not constitute a compelling interest.” As if a rabidly anti-gun group can make a credible statement like that on behalf of the government.
The Florida law should be a model for the nation on keeping doctors in check when it comes to the privacy of parents to safely and responsibly keep arms in their homes. The appeals court ought to overturn the lower court’s decision and give the Sunshine State the ability to shine the light on what is going on in the secrecy of doctors’ offices.
Emily Miller is a senior editor of opinion for The Washington Times and author of the forthcoming “Emily Gets Her Gun” (Regnery, Sept. 3).