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Nancy Smith

Florida, Appeal Flawed Decision Overturning 'Docs vs. Glocks' Law

July 6, 2012 - 6:00pm

Rick Scott should appeal U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke's permanent injunction against Florida's Firearms Owners' Privacy Act.

If he doesn't, doctors will have a right to refuse to treat you if you own a gun.

They will have a right to grill you about your gun and enter your answers into their medical records, including where the firearm is stored.

They will have a right to press your children on whether you own a gun.

"Now we've got Obamacare, the government owns our health care," Molly Johanssen, a 58-year-old Tallahassee business owner, told Sunshine State News. "They can coerce the names and habits of gun owners out of doctors' medical records, that's what scares me most. Maybe it won't happen today or tomorrow, but the ability to do it is there."

The point is this: Without the governor's intervention, the law the Florida Legislature passed in 2011 to prevent doctors from "unnecessarily harassing a patient about firearm ownership" is as dead as a beaver hat.

Nicknamed "Docs vs. Glocks," the Firearms Owners' Privacy Act barred doctors from asking patients about guns in the home "unless the practitioner in good faith believes the information is relevant to the patient's medical care or safety."

It was passed after an Ocala couple complained that a doctor had asked them about guns, and when they declined to answer, refused to see them anymore.

And in spite of a bitter "campaign of intimidation" against it waged by physicians' groups, the Brady Campaign and others, Gov. Scott signed the bill into law in June 2011.

They sent a letter that was a blatant threat," said Marion P. Hammer, past president of the National Rifle Association and now the NRA's chief lobbyist in Florida. "They attempted to intimidate and coerce the governor by telling him that they would sue him and other state officials if the bill became law. Now, that tells you the type of people youre dealing with. ...

Those who opposed the new law made good on their threats, too. Using three doctors, they sued the state. Enter, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who in September 2011 issued a temporary injunction against the law, claiming the gag order on doctors talking to their patients about guns is an infringement of free speech and the doctor-patient relationship.

About a week ago, on June 29, Cooke made the injunction permanent.

But many critics of the judge's decision -- not just the NRA, but attorneys who have followed the case -- claim the rationale behind it is seriously flawed.

Six times in a 25-page ruling, they point out, Cooke uses the phrase truthful, nonmisleading" speech/information. She sums up her decision this way: "What is curious about this law -- and what makes it different from so many other laws involving practitioners speech -- is that it aims to restrict a practitioners ability to provide truthful, nonmisleading information to a patient ..."

Restrict a practitioner's ability to provide truthful, nonmisleading information to a patient?

The Act did no such thing, these observers insist. Read the bill as it was written, as it was taken into law: It "prohibits a doctor from asking or recording information about firearm ownership and prohibits a doctor from dropping a patient who refuses to talk about firearm ownership."

Lane Wright, press secretary for Scott, has said the governor is considering whether to appeal Cooke's decision.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, health-care consultant in private life who sponsored the bill, and General Counsel for the Florida Senate Craig Meyer, both have said they believe Cooke's decision will not go unchallenged. They say Scott will appeal.

That's the right thing to do.

For the estimated 8.5 million Floridians who own firearms, who fear the coming federal takeover of the American health-care system -- and let's be honest, many do -- Cooke's ruling has compromised their privacy rights and put them in danger of a day when government conceivably will be able to access medical records as a means of getting a list of gun owners.

Whether you or I believe that will happen is not the point.

The fact is, appealing Cooke's decision seemed less urgent before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Obamacare. Now appeal becomes the necessary option -- not to incite fear but to prevent it.

Read Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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