Doctors ask federal judge to block new gun law

Jul 13, 2011

The following article was published in the Florida Current on July 13, 2011:

Doctors ask federal judge to block new gun law

Doctors opposed to a new law that limits their ability to ask patients about guns went before a federal judge on Wednesday.

During a contentious hearing in Miami attorneys representing groups of doctors — as well as some individual doctors — asked for an injunction against HB 155. The judge in the case did not rule from the bench but she is expected to rule in the next few weeks.

The measure, which was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, says that doctors cannot keep records on whether or not a patient owns guns if it is not relevant to the patient’s medical condition. The law also discourages, but does not ban, questions about gun ownership. It was pushed by the National Rifle Association in the wake of an incident where a doctor stopped seeing an Ocala couple after they refused to answer questions about gun ownership.

The Palm Beach Post reported that Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, a Washington D.C. attorney from the firm of Ropes & Gray, told Judge Marcia G. Cooke that the law violated physicians’ First Amendment right to free speech.

He told the judge that doctors regularly warn patients about many health risks and said there was no precedent in law “where lobbyists for powerful interests can say to a doctor, ‘Just don’t say that.'”

He warned that other groups — like the tobacco industry — might push for a similar law in the future if the measure remained in place.

The Miami Herald reported that Cooke — Gov. Jeb Bush’s former chief inspector general who was appointed to the bench by former President George W. Bush — asked lawyers for both sides plenty of questions about the measure.

“What I need to determine, is the legislation itself an unconstitutional burden on speech?” the Herald quoted Cooke. “What can’t you do now that you could do before?”

The Herald also quoted Jason Vail, an attorney representing the state who said that the “statute was carefully crafted so it doesn’t interfere with the professional judgement of the practitioner.”

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