Doctors Win in Florida ‘Docs vs

Glocks’ Legal Tussle

TALLAHASSEE — In the lengthy legal battle of “Docs vs. Glocks,’’ the doctors have emerged victorious.

The state last month did not appeal a federal court ruling striking down major parts of the 2011 law dubbed with that name. That decision came six years after Florida lawmakers passed the measure, which tried to stop doctors from asking patients about their guns.

“This law is dead,” said Tom Julin, a First Amendment lawyer who represented a coalition of medical groups and others who took part in the case as “friends of the court.”

The measure, supported by the National Rifle Association, included a series of restrictions on doctors and other health providers.

For example, it sought to prevent physicians from entering information about gun ownership into medical records if the physicians knew the information was not “relevant” to patients’ medical care or safety or to the safety of other people.

Also, the 2011 law said doctors should refrain from asking about gun ownership by patients or family members unless the doctors believed in “good faith” that the information was relevant to medical care or safety.

And the law sought to prevent doctors from discriminating against patients or “harassing” them because of owning firearms.

The plaintiffs in the case, including individual doctors, argued the restrictions were a violation of their First Amendment rights. A federal district judge agreed with them and blocked the law from going into effect.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the law in three separate rulings, but the ban keeping the law from going into effect remained in place.

A February ruling by the full appellate court struck down the law. Florida officials did not appeal that ruling before a deadline last month, Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office confirmed.

Bondi’s office referred questions about the case to state health officials, who, along with Gov. Rick Scott, were the defendants in the case.

Scott’s office also acknowledged the deadline had passed, but did not say why the state decided not to appeal.

“As a strong supporter of [the] Second Amendment, Governor Scott is glad that a vast majority of this law was never challenged and upheld in court,” Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said in an email last week.

The court found that the record-keeping, inquiry and anti-harassment provisions of the law are unconstitutional, but upheld the portion of the law that bars doctors from discriminating against patients who have guns.

Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, called the state’s decision not to appeal a major victory for free speech and the medical community.

“What is important is that every doctor in Florida knows that the First Amendment right guaranteeing freedom of speech once again provides protection for the medical community to honor its mission to protect the health and lives of patients,” Simon said.

Republican legislators pushed the law, entitled the “Firearms Owners’ Privacy Act,” in 2011 after learning that a pediatrician told an Ocala mother to find a new doctor because she refused to answer questions about guns in the family home.

State Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who was one of the House sponsors of the measure, said the law may have done its job, even if it was ultimately stricken from the books.

“I think we certainly made our point,” said Baxley, who has frequently sponsored NRA-backed proposals. “If you’ve been able to present your case and move the hearts of people, sometimes you’ve won and you don’t know it.”

Baxley said it was too soon to tell whether lawmakers would revisit the measure. “We’ll see,’’ he said.

Lawmakers cut secret deal, go home »

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