Yesterday, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decided to strike down a dangerous medical gag law in Florida that levied penalties against doctors for discussing gun safety with patients.
It’s been proven again and again that the presence of guns in the home greatly increases the risk of suicide and unintentional shootings, especially by children. Because of this deadly risk, it is standard practice for doctors to inquire whether their patients own firearms so that they can advise them on the importance of safely storing weapons and other practices that come with responsible gun ownership. The medical community plays a critical role in educating the public on how to live a safe, healthy life and physicians’ right to speak freely with patients about gun safety is a necessary element of providing good healthcare, especially when patients demonstrate a higher risk of suicide or live in homes with children.
Doctors typically speak with patients about other commonsense safety issues, like wearing helmets while riding bicycles, using seatbelts in cars, and putting fences around swimming pools—gun safety is well within the purview of physicians’ advisement. The medical community strongly opposed the Florida legislature’s attempt to limit their free speech, and the full Eleventh Circuit overturned a faulty earlier decision, ruling that the Florida firearms gag law unfairly violated the First Amendment rights of doctors and put patients at unnecessary risk.
The Law Center teamed with law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson to file two amicus briefs in this critical case, which were joined by the American Public Health Association, the American Association of Suicidology, and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.
We’re pleased the Eleventh Circuit struck down this attempt to quash the rights of doctors to speak with patients about gun safety. The court saw through the gun lobby’s argument that firearms owners need protection of the government from simple questions by trusted physicians, and we applaud the judges of the Eleventh Circuit for acting so forcefully to rebuke this unconstitutional law.