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Three physicians’ groups have filed a federal lawsuit against the State of Florida, Gov. Rick Scott and several agency heads today, claiming that a recently signed gun law unconstitutionally violates physicians’ right to free speech.
Except in certain cases, the law forbids doctors from asking patients or their parents whether guns are kept in the home, and forbids the entering of such information in a patient’s medical record.
Legislators named the new law the “Privacy of Firearm Owners Act” out of a sense that doctors had no business asking patients if they own guns.
The doctors have a different name. In their complaint – see it below – they call it the “Physician Gag Law.”
Doctors, especially pediatricians, are trained to ask about gun ownership because of the proven difference that safe gun and ammunition storage can make to their patients.
Doug Hallward-Driemeier, a partner at Ropes & Gray LLP and co-counsel for the physicians, believes the law is a slam-dunk free-speech violation:
“This case is about the core principle of the First Amendment that the government cannot tell individual citizens what they can and cannot say.
Patients have a right to trust that doctors are providing their honest and best advice about matters of health and safety.
The Florida Legislature cannot require that doctors first put that advice through a government-approved filter.”
Hallward-Driermeier is representing three groups: The American Academy of Pediatrics, Florida Chapter; the American Academy of Family Physicians, Florida Chapter; and the American College of Physicians, Florida Chapter, as well as three named physicians.
They are Dr. Judith Schaechter, a Miami-based adolescent medicine specialist; Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, a North Miami Beach-based family practitioner, and Dr. Tommy Schechtman, a Palm Beach Gardens-based pediatrician.
The doctors say that the law will cost lives. An excerpt from the lawsuit:
From 1999 to 2007, 1,195 children and teens in Florida were shot and killed with firearms.
In a mere two-month span last year, from February 8, 2010 through March 26, 2010, four Florida children died from injuries accidentally inflicted by firearms. In one incident, an 11-year-old boy died after accidentally being shot in the face by his little brother; the boys had been sent to the parking lot outside their home to retrieve a hat from their father’s truck, and, while searching for it, the 10-year-old found a gun and shot and killed his brother.