Goodman: Appeals court hits bull’s-eye with ‘Docs v Glocks’ takedown

Score one for good thinking. A federal appeals court Thursday struck down the inane Florida law that prohibited physicians from asking their patients whether there’s a gun in the house that’s stored safely.

The law, the only one like it in the United States, has helped mold our risible reputation as the “Gunshine State.” It was signed in 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott with strong backing from the National Rifle Association and the GOP-led Legislature, who said doctors were overstepping their bounds and pushing an anti-Second Amendment agenda.

Medical groups and others quickly challenged the law, and it’s been winding through state and federal courts ever since.

Now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta has ruled, in a 10-to-1 decision, that the law infringes upon doctors’ freedom of speech. Any patient who doesn’t like a doctor’s questions about gun ownership can find another doctor, the court said.

“The Second Amendment right to own and possess firearms does not preclude questions about, commentary on, or criticism for the exercise of that right,” wrote Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan in one of two majority opinions. “There is no actual conflict between the First Amendment rights of doctors and medical professionals and the Second Amendment rights of patients.”

The American Civil Liberties Union had fought hard against the law. “We are thrilled that the court has finally put to bed the nonsensical and dangerous idea that a doctor speaking with a patient about gun safety somehow threatens the right to own a gun,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.

The Associated Press reports:

The 11th Circuit noted that Florida lawmakers appeared to base the law on “six anecdotes” about physicians’ discussions of guns in their examination rooms and little other concrete evidence that there is an actual problem. And doctors who violated the law could face professional discipline, a fine or possibly loss of their medical licenses.

“There was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida Legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients’ firearms or otherwise infringed on patients’ Second Amendment rights,” Jordan wrote for the court.

The Washington Post explains why doctors might want to ask patients about guns:

Several large professional medical groups have said it is within the bounds of ethical medical care for doctors to ask about gun safety at home, in the way a physician might ask parents of small children if they have a backyard pool. A May 2016 review, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, noted that the majority of physicians believe that “they have the right to counsel patients about firearms.”

“Firearm violence is an important health problem, and most physicians agree that they should help prevent that violence,” Garen J. Wintemute, a co-author of the paper and a public health expert at the University of California Davis, told The Washington Post in May…

Doctors are not wholly united on this front. Some groups, such as Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, have voiced their dissent, believing that doctors should not discuss guns with their patients. (Medical groups had “declared a culture war on gun ownership,” the DRGO said on its website. It also warned that “your doctor may have a personal prejudice against gun ownership, shaped by her training in medical school or residency.”)

The appeals court, to its great credit, upheld the primacy of the First Amendment as a bedrock of American liberties. That reminder came from Circuit Judge William Pryor, who was a finalist in President Donald J. Trump’s search for a U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

In a separate concurring opinion, Pryor said that the First Amendment must protect all points of view.

“The promise of free speech is that even when one holds an unpopular point of view, the state cannot stifle it,” he wrote.

Pryor added:

The First Amendment is a counter-majoritarian bulwark against tyranny. “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech,” [as the Constitution states,] cannot mean “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech a majority likes.”…

If we upheld the Act, we could set a precedent for many other restrictions of potentially unpopular speech …

The First Amendment requires the protection of ideas that some people might find distasteful
because tomorrow the tables might be turned.

Well said.

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