“See doc? That’s what you get for shooting your mouth off! Get it?”
A federal appeals court this week upheld an NRA-crafted Florida law making it illegal for doctors to ask questions and record information about a patient’s gun ownership. Medical groups had challenged the law, arguing that it infringed on doctors’ First Amendment rights.
Which it does. The law is an outrageous incursion on free speech in order to protect gun owners from unwelcome anti-gun lobbying by their physicians.
Among other restrictions, the law says doctors must refrain from asking about gun ownership by patients or family members unless the they believe in “good faith” that the information is relevant to medical care or safety. It also prevent doctors from discriminating against patients or “harassing” them because of owning firearms, which presumably means that it is illegal for a doctor to tell a patient, “You’re too clumsy to own a gun, and if you blow your damn face off, don’t come crying to me.”
“The purpose of the act, as we read it, is not to protect patient privacy by shielding patients from any and all discussion about firearms with their physicians; the act merely requires physicians to refrain from broaching a concededly sensitive topic when they lack any good-faith belief that such information is relevant to the medical care or safety of their patients or others,” said the 2-1 majority opinion, written by Judge Gerald Tjoflat and joined by Judge L. Scott Coogler.
Dissenting Judge Charles Wilson argued that the law violates the First Amendment rights of physicians:
“Simply put, the act is a gag order that prevents doctors from even asking the first question in a conversation about firearms. The act prohibits or significantly chills doctors from expressing their views and providing information to patients about one topic and one topic only, firearms.”
I don’t see how anyone can dispute that analysis. I especially don’t see how the other two judges dispute it.
Doctors shouldn’t use their position of influence to try to impose their political, social and life-style views on patients. If the American Medical Association wants to declare that to be an unethical abuse of a doctor’s status and a patient’s trust, I wouldn’t complain. The law, however, has no more business telling doctors that they can’t advise their patients that owning guns may be bad for their health or their neighbor’s health than it has making it illegal for doctors to tell patients that Donald Trump is just what this country needs in the White House. What’s next, telling dentists that they can’t tell you about their brilliant kids while they’re poking around your mouth?
The state doesn’t have to get involved in what patients and doctors talk about, shouldn’t, and mustn’t. This is a job for ethics, not law. If a doctor won’t stop telling you that the Second Amendment should be repealed, the remedy is easy: tell him to shut up, or you’ll find a new doctor.
Or just shoot him.
Pointer: Legal Ethics Forum