Physicians to appeal court affirmation of Florida law restricting gun counseling


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Florida Chapter and others plan to appeal the recent federal court decision that approves a Florida "gag" law restricting physician counseling and medical record notation about firearm ownership or presence in the home of a patient.


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Florida Chapter and others plan to appeal the recent federal court decision that approves a Florida "gag" law restricting physician counseling and medical record notation about firearm ownership or presence in a patient’s home.

In July a 3-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the 2011 state law that would prohibit healthcare professionals or facilities from asking questions about ownership of a firearm or ammunition; the presence of a firearm in a home; or from entering information about firearm ownership in a patient’s record. The Florida chapters of the AAP, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Physicians and others had filed a lawsuit, calling the law a restriction of free speech.

The Court decision said, “The Act recognizes that when a patient enters a physician’s examination room, the patient is in a position of relative powerlessness,” and that “the Act simply acknowledges that the practice of good medicine does not require interrogation about irrelevant, private matters.”

In August, Mobeen Rathore, MD, president of the Florida AAP chapter, said the organization would be asking for a hearing from the full Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and, if the Court agrees to hear it, the chapter hopes that will happen in the next few months.

The Florida law does say that such questions may be asked if the practitioner or facility in good faith believes the queries are relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety.

Florida’s National Rifle Association (NRA) had pushed for the legislation. Marion Hammer, lobbyist for the group, said the doctor in each case is responsible for deciding when the question is relevant. “If the doctor believes that the patient is suicidal, asking about a gun, whether or not they own a gun, would certainly be pertinent to medical care. . . . If a doctor asks in a situation where it is appropriate, he or she should feel on firm ground, because the patient can only make a complaint to the medical board who is ultimately the decision maker.”

Hammer and local news reports said the push for the law was inspired by the case of a woman who refused to answer when a pediatrician asked if she owned a gun and then had the doctor tell her he would no longer see her child.

There were many similar complaints, according to Hammer. The Eleventh Circuit Court opinion said that during the legislative debate cases were described in which children separated from their mother in doctors’ offices were asked if their mother owned a firearm. A state legislator, according to the Court, has been asked by a pediatrician to remove his gun from his home.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2011 there were 11 deaths by firearms in children aged younger than 1 year, 75 for children aged 1 to 4 years, and 311 for those aged 5 to 14 years.

Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, in 2012 there were 1322 nonfatal gunshot injuries in children aged 0 to 14 years.


A friend of the court brief filed by the American Public Health Association and others also argued that the law infringes upon the public’s right to receive information, a part of free speech repeatedly recognized by the courts.

Asked about the NRA’s gun safety programs, Hammer said, “When people come to NRA for gun safety training, we give them gun safety training. When people go to pediatricians for medical care, they do not expect nor do they want gun safety training.”

Other groups that have signed a brief opposing the law are the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the American College of Surgeons, the American College of Preventive Medicine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Psychiatric Association.

Florida is the only state that has enacted such legislation, but 10 other states have had similar legislation introduced since 2011. What happens with the Florida case could significantly impact what other states decide to do, the AAP Florida chapter’s Rathore said.


Ms Foxhall is a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area. She has nothing to disclose in regard to affiliations with or financial interests in any organizations that might have an interest in any part of this article.

Source for map: American Academy of Pediatrics, Division of State Government Affairs.

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