A federal judge has blocked the state of Florida from enforcing a new law pushed by firearm advocates that banned thousands of doctors from discussing gun ownership with their patients.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who had already issued a preliminary injunction last September, made her decision permanent late Friday when she ruled in favor of groups of physicians who asserted the state violated their free speech rights. She said the law was so vague that it violated the First Amendment rights of doctors, noting the legislations privacy provisions fail to provide any standards for practitioners to follow.
The physicians lawsuit, an ideological battle between advocates of free speech and the right to bear arms, has been dubbed Docs vs. Glocks. The state Department of Health could appeal her summary judgment, which addressed legislation signed into law last year by Gov. Rick Scott.
In her 25-page ruling, Cooke clearly sided with the physicians, saying evidence showed that physicians began self-censoring because of the chilling effect of the legislation.
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, non-misleading information to a patient, whether relevant or not at the time of the consult with the patient, Cooke wrote, citing the benefit of such preventive medicine.
The state asserts that it has an interest in protecting the exercise of the fundamental right to keep and bear arms, Cooke wrote in another section about the Second Amendment issue. I do not disagree that the government has such an interest in protecting its citizens fundamental rights. The Firearm Owners Privacy Act, however, simply does not interfere with the right to keep and bear arms.
The states latest legal loss follows a series of other recent setbacks in the courts, including healthcare reform, privatization of prisons, drug testing of welfare recipients, drug testing of state workers, and the shifting of pension costs onto state workers.
The Republican-controlled state Legislature adopted the Firearm Owners Privacy Act in 2011 after an Ocala couple complained that a doctor asked them about guns and they refused to answer. The physician refused to see them anymore.
Cooke, the judge, said the legislation was based on anecdotal information and unfounded conjecture. Her decision was praised by the groups of plaintiffs, which included the Florida Pediatric Society and Florida Academy of Family Physicians.
Im ecstatic our challenge was successful, said Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, a North Miami Beach plaintiff, who represented the Florida Academy of Family Physicians.
Were acting out of commonsense, and this is a commonsense issue, said Wollschlaeger, a past president of the Dade County Medical Association. My fear is the state will appeal and keeping wasting money to fight windmills. This is an ideologically driven, politically motivated vendetta by the NRA [National Rifle Association] that has to stop.
The legislation, indeed, was pushed by the NRA, which tried to intervene in the doctors lawsuit. But the judge denied the powerful lobbying groups request, saying the state could adequately defend itself. Lawyers for the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence were also involved in the case representing the doctors side.