FL Doctor Gag Bill Pits Second Amendment Against the First

Thanks to republican Florida state rep Jason Brodeur and his friends at the National Rifle Association, CS/HB 155 seems headed for full legislative consideration. The bill would make it illegal for doctors to ask their patients about their firearms. This is a bone-headed move on many levels. Here’s the bill’s text . . .

Privacy of Firearms Owners: Prohibits physicians or other medical personnel from inquiring, either verbally or in writing, about ownership of firearm by patient or family of patient or presence of firearm in patient’s private home or other domicile; prohibits conditioning receipt of medical treatment or care on person’s willingness or refusal to disclose personal & private information unrelated to medical treatment in violation of individual’s privacy contrary to specified provisions; prohibits entry of certain information concerning firearms into medical records or disclosure of such information by specified individuals; provides noncriminal penalties; provides for prosecution of violations; requires informing Attorney General of prosecution of violations; provides for collection of fines by Attorney General in certain circumstances; provides exemptions.

First of all, what business does the state have setting the limits on a conversation between a doctor and his or her patient? This idea is a clear violation of the First Amendment. And the legal shield known as “doctor – patient privilege,” which allows people to seek medical and/or psychological help without fear of legal blowback. Which encourages them to seek that help. Which keeps them on society’s radar. Which is a good thing.

Except when it isn’t. But that’s the way the constitutional cookie crumbles—and there are exceptions to the doctor – patient privilege designed to protect society from mass murderers, child molesters, etc. I can see no societal interest in preventing doctors from asking patients about firearms.

Common sense says if your doctor asks you about some aspect of your life that you consider out of bounds, whether that’s sexual habits or gun ownership, you can look him or her in the eye and say “I don’t consider that any of your business.” Done.

Sure, some doctors might—indeed have—used the information to terminate care for a patient. That’s another issue, quite apart from this absurd proactive gag order. Any doctor who boots a patient for owning guns, or taking offense at questions about their storage or use, faces the judgement of the free market. Especially in Florida, for goodness sake.

Meanwhile, talk about your law of unintended consequences . . .

What if a patient wants to talk to their doctor about firearms, perhaps in relation to suicidal urges? Is that prohibited? And what if the patient says “Doc, I’m thinking of killing myself?” Does the physician have to say, “Well, I’m prohibited by law from asking you about firearms in the home, so let’s just say are you thinking about killing yourself with something other than a firearm?”

I understand the desire to stop doctors from creating a firearms registry. I get that some gun owners find firearms-related questions unacceptably intrusive. But this law seems like closing the barn door before there’s even a horse in the stable.

CS/HB 155 is a dumb piece of legislation that fails to recognize the primacy of the First Amendment. It should have never seen the light of day. Let’s hope it dies in committee.