MIAMI (AP) – A federal judge has blocked
enforcement of a first-in-the-nation law that restricted what
Florida physicians can say about guns to their patients, ruling the
law violates the U.S. Constitution’s free speech guarantees and
does not trample gun rights.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said it was important to
emphasize “the free flow of truthful, non-misleading information
within the doctor-patient relationship.”
“This case concerns one of our Constitution’s most precious
rights _ the freedom of speech,” said Cooke, appointed to the
bench by Republican President George W. Bush. “A practitioner who
counsels a patient on firearm safety, even when entirely irrelevant
to medical care or safety, does not affect or interfere with the
patient’s right to continue to own, possess or use firearms.”
The law was passed earlier this year by the
Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law June 2 by
Republican Gov. Rick Scott. The governor, the National Rifle
Association and other supporters contended it was a violation of
privacy and possibly the Second Amendment for doctors to question
patients about guns at home.
But physicians’ groups representing some 11,000 doctors and the
Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence sued. They said the law halted
meaningful discussions between doctors and patients _ especially
parents with guns _ about keeping the weapons out of the hands of
Dr. Lisa Cosgrove, president of the Florida chapter of the
American Academy of Pediatrics, said the ruling will help save
lives. She said doctors routinely counsel patients about safety
issues at home, on everything from backyard swimming pools to use
of bike helmets.
“Sometimes it’s just a reminder that if you are a gun owner,
you make sure you are a responsible gun owner,” said Cosgrove, a
pediatrician. “Children cannot make these decisions about safety
for themselves. Parents have to be the guides for that.”
Daniel Vice, senior attorney with the Washington-based Brady
Center, said the decision invalidates a “dangerous and blatantly
“Especially with eight kids shot and killed every day in
America, it’s crucial that doctors be able to talk about the severe
risk of guns in the home,” Vice said.
Attorney General Pam Bondi and Scott’s office did not
immediately say whether there would be an appeal, and NRA officials
in Tallahassee could not be reached for comment. Cooke’s ruling
temporarily halts enforcement of the law, but the judge indicated
that decision would likely be made permanent.
The chief Senate sponsor, Republican Sen. Greg Evers, said he
was disappointed in the ruling and that he expected an appeal. The
lead House supporter, Republican Rep. Jason Brodeur, said doctors
could accomplish their goal by giving gun safety talks to all
“Direct questions about firearm ownership when it has nothing
to do with medical care is simply pushing a political agenda, which
doesn’t belong in exam rooms,” Brodeur said in an email.
The law arose out of the so-called “Ocala incident,” in which
a young mother in 2010 was dropped from a doctor’s practice because
she refused to answer questions about gun ownership. Her cause
found its way to the Legislature, which came up with similar
instances around the state that some lawmakers compared to
At one point, lawmakers wanted to make violations punishable by
a five-year prison sentence and $5 million fine. That was
eventually scaled back to disciplinary action that could include
loss of a doctor’s medical license and a fine up to $10,000. There
were also several exceptions, such as permission to ask questions
about firearms to people with mental problems.
In her ruling, Cooke said she found very little evidence of
widespread harassment or discrimination of gun owners by
“It is unlikely that a concern for some patients who may be
offended or uncomfortable by questions regarding firearm ownership
could justify this law,” she said.