THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, January 5, 2016.......... Pointing to free-speech issues, physicians and medical groups this week asked a full federal appeals court to take up a challenge to a 2011 Florida law that restricts doctors from asking questions and recording information about patients' gun ownership.
Plaintiffs in a long-running legal battle about what has become known as the "docs v. glocks" law filed a petition Monday seeking a rehearing before the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The move came three weeks after a divided panel of the court upheld the law --- the third such panel ruling.
The petition argued that last month's 2-1 ruling would violate the First Amendment rights of physicians and pose a "grave threat" to public health and safety.
"That some patients find inquiries about gun ownership 'intrusive' or believe that gun ownership is a 'sensitive' topic does not give the state license to shut down entirely those inquiries, which are at the very heart of many doctors' everyday conversations with patients,'' the document said. "Indeed, the majority's rationale could apply equally to other standard features of doctor-patient counseling and inquiry: the risks associated with smoking, certain sexual activity, drugs and alcohol."
But the Dec. 14 panel ruling said lawmakers passed the measure after complaints about health-care providers asking unwelcome questions about patients' gun ownership and harassing patients. It said the law "codifies the commonsense conclusion that good medical care does not require inquiry or record-keeping regarding firearms when unnecessary to a patient's care."
"The act seeks to protect patient privacy by restricting irrelevant inquiry and record-keeping by physicians on the sensitive issue of firearm ownership and by prohibiting harassment and discrimination on the basis of firearm ownership,'' said the ruling, written by Judge Gerald Tjoflat and joined by Judge L. Scott Coogler. "The act does not prevent physicians from speaking with patients about firearms generally. Nor does it prohibit specific inquiry or record-keeping about a patient's firearm-ownership status when the physician determines in good faith, based on the circumstances of that patient's case, that such information is relevant to the patient's medical care or safety, or the safety of others."
Judge Charles Wilson, who was in the minority in earlier rulings that upheld the law, dissented again, writing that after considering arguments, "I continue to believe that it does not survive First Amendment scrutiny."
The 81-page majority ruling was the third time the court has upheld the law. The same panel also ruled on the issue in July and then revised its reasoning in last month's decision.
In the Legislature, the law was backed by Second Amendment advocates such as the National Rifle Association but faced heavy opposition from physicians. It includes a series of restrictions on doctors and other health providers. As an example, it seeks to prevent physicians from entering information about gun ownership into medical records if the physicians know the information is not "relevant" to patients' medical care or safety or to the safety of other people.
Among the plaintiffs in the challenge are individual doctors and three physician groups.