Massachusetts state Representative Jon Santiago has filed a bill to require doctors to screen all patients for firearms in their homes and to counsel them on safety. It’s Bill H.2005: An Act to prevent gun violence:
Section 237. The director shall establish a program for firearm screening and counseling. Such program shall systematically screen all patients for the presence of firearms in the home. The director shall, after consultation with recognized professional medical groups and such other sources as the director deems appropriate, promulgate regulations establishing (1) the means by which and the intervals at which patients shall be screened for the presence of firearms in the home and (2) guidelines for safety counseling for individuals that screen positive for the presence of firearms in the home.
I can’t imagine that is going to pass constitutional muster. Florida attempted the opposite a few years ago, forbidding doctors to ask their patients about firearms. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck that law down as infringing on the doctors’ First Amendment free speech rights.
I see compelling doctors (or anyone else) to engage in a particular kind of speech to be even more of a violation. In Florida, doctors were just barred, until the law was overturned, from supporting a personal view in their professional dealings. Massachusetts would force doctors to support gun control regardless of their opinions.
It’s true that the Supreme Court has allowed “compelled speech” in some cases. An excellent example would be Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Association, a dispute over forcing a beef company to financially support an advertising campaign for the beef industry. Stripped to its basics, the Court ruled that Johanns had to support speech promoting its own industry.
On the other hand, in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, the Court overturned part of a California law that was intended to force pro-life “pregnancy centers” to provide pro-abortion information to all their clients. The Court found that compelled speech was unconstitutional.
So we have assorted precedents that:
- You can’t restrict doctors from promoting their own views.
- You can require businesses to support their own industry.
- You can’t require businesses to promote a viewing decidedly not their own.
I don’t think Massachusetts can compel doctors to support gun control no matter their personal views, and likely on a subject far outside of their area of expertise. I think that should left to individual doctors to decide.
And then it should be left to their individual patients to decide if their doctor has committed a major boundary violation and they need to file a complaint with the Board of Registration in Medicine.