You Lose, NRA: Doctors Can Now Talk To Their Patients About Guns

by Valerie Williams
Originally Published: 
Image via Shutterstock

The court ruled freedom of speech was threatened by the law

Yesterday, a federal appeals court struck down parts of a Florida law that kept doctors from talking to patients about whether or not they owned guns. Of all the things a doctor could discuss with a patient, it seems pretty pertinent to know if there are weapons in the home, and now, it’s fair game to bring up.

As it should be.

According to The Trace, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta made the ruling that the Firearms Owners Privacy Act (FOPA), aka, Docs vs Glocks, is in violation of the First Amendment, as it prevents physicians from exercising their right to free speech. Those in favor of the law felt it was necessary to protect a patient’s Second Amendment rights.

Which is, frankly, ridiculous.

As the court’s majority decision reads, “The Second Amendment right to own and possess firearms does not preclude questions about, commentary on, or criticism for the exercise of that right.”

So, it’s not enough that Second Amendment supporters have their guns, medical professionals shouldn’t be allowed to ask reasonable questions about them that might keep others in their household safe? Thank god for the court system.

Those supporting the law, including heavy lobbying by the National Rifle Association, claim it enabled doctors to refuse to care for patients who owned firearms. The NRA said they knew of instances where patients “were harassed or denied access to services because they refused to be interrogated by their doctors about their ownership of firearms.”

In their ruling, the court noted a total lack of evidence that this was happening. “This evidentiary void is not surprising because doctors and medical professionals, as private actors, do not have any authority (legal or otherwise) to restrict the ownership or possession of firearms by patients (or by anyone else for that matter).”

In fact, the opposite is true, with The Trace previously reporting that while 86% of physicians believe guns are a public health issue, (and therefore, the business of medical professionals charged with keeping patients safe and healthy), 58% don’t ask patients about gun access or ownership.

University of California, San Francisco emergency medicine physician Jahan Fahimi says, “Doctors are taught how to screen for lots of sensitive issues, but nobody has brought up the gun thing. We don’t know how to talk to gun owners, and they do make us uncomfortable.”

You know what else is uncomfortable? Being asked deeply personal questions about sexual history, possible substance abuse issues, mental health, our bathroom habits and about a million other things we’re expected to openly discuss with medical professionals with the ultimate goal of keeping us safe and healthy. Because that’s their job. Gun access in the home is no different.

The thing is, doctors don’t have the ability to take away a person’s guns, but they can make suggestions about access to firearms in the home, especially if children live there. But even some parents fail to see why this is important with Florida mom Amber Ullman telling the Ocala State Banner, “Whether I have a gun has nothing to do with the health of my child. If I don’t have to register my gun with the state of Florida, why do I have to tell my pediatrician whether I own a gun?”

And there’s the disconnect that striking down this ridiculous law will hopefully repair. It has everything to do with the health of her child, and if she happens to be one of the adults neglectful enough to leave a gun where her kids can access it, there’s a chance her family could become part of the sad statistics involving kids and gun deaths. It’s a matter of health and safety, which makes it more than fair for a doctor to bring up.

Of course, that handy dandy First Amendment that allows physicians to ask the question also gives a patient the right to refuse to answer. As the court’s decision reads, “Many are those who must endure speech they do not like, but that is a necessary cost of freedom.”

This ruling proves that a doctor being able to talk about guns with a patient is every bit as American as a person’s right to own them. End of story.

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