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Docs want judge to stop enforcment of gag order over guns

Florida doctors today asked a judge to stop enforcement of the law that prevents them from asking patients about guns in their homes even before he decides whether the law is unconstitutional.

The Brady Center Against Gun Violence filed a lawsuit on June 6 on behalf of three physician groups against Gov. Rick Scott and the secretary of state alleging that the law violates their First Amendment right to free speech and endangers patients safety. Today, the doctors filed an injunction to block enforcement of the law.

Here's the release:

Medical Groups, Individual Physicians Ask Court for

Immediate Injunction Against Physician Gag Law

Since Taking Effect, Gag Law Has Chilled Speech by Florida Doctors

 The Florida chapters of three national medical organizations, along with six physicians, today asked a federal district judge in Miami to immediately block enforcement of the new state law that bars healthcare professionals from asking patients if they own guns and have them stored properly.   These questions are a key element in the practice of preventive medicine.

 The court papers filed today make clear that a request for a preliminary injunction is necessary because the new law has already curtailed the First Amendment rights of physicians across the state to speak with their patients about gun safety.

 Lisa A. Cosgrove, M.D., FAAP, President of the Florida Pediatric Society (Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics) said: “Pediatricians simply want to do what they do best: protect children.  We hope that we will be able to get back to the business of asking parents to keep their guns, pools and poisons where they can't harm kids."

 Dennis Mayeaux, MD, Chair, Board of Directors, Florida Academy of Family Physicians said:  “The impact of this law has already caused serious rifts in physician-patient relationships.  Casual conversations with patients often bring other medical issues to light, and erosion of these opportunities also erodes the quality of care.”

 Stuart Himmelstein, M.D., American College of Physicians Governor for Florida, stated: "Reversing this law is essential in order to preserve the sanctity of the doctor -patient relationship by keeping the government out of the exam room.  Reversing this law will preserve free speech between both doctors and patients as protected by the Constitution and which is necessary to obtain the highest of quality care that every citizen deserves." 

 Physicians and other healthcare professionals routinely provide their patients with information about a variety of health risks in the home and broader environment.  Such preventive counseling has become a cornerstone in the practice of medicine and is recommended by numerous professional medical societies.   In the course of practicing preventive medicine, healthcare professionals routinely ask and counsel patients about firearm safety.

 The state chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American College of Physicians collectively represent more than 11,000 healthcare professionals in Florida.  They are joined in the injunction request by six physicians who filed papers with the court showing that the law has substantially curtailed their First Amendment rights to exchange information with patients about gun safety. 

 The lawsuit challenging the Physician Gag law was filed on June 6, 2011, shortly after Governor Scott signed it into law.  Prior to filing suit, the physician groups urged the governor to veto the legislation since it infringes the First Amendment rights of healthcare professionals throughout Florida.  

 The organizations and individual physicians in the lawsuit are represented by Ropes & Gray, Astigarraga Davis, and lawyers from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s Legal Action Project.