Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: ‘Docs vs. glocks’ ruling leaves medical groups stunned

Gun absolutists triumphed in the courts last week, with a 2-1 decision by a federal appeals panel reinstating Florida's infamous “physician gag law.”

You know: the 2011 statute the media dubbed “Docs Versus Glocks,” chuckling at the rhyme, figuring we could play it for laughs because such a joke of a law would never stand.

Because it’s one thing for state lawmakers to slap around county commissioners who might try to ban guns from playgrounds, or a university administrator who might not relish drunken frat boys packing heat on campus, but it’s quite another for the state to dictate how physicians communicate with their patients.

Even if the NRA pushed it through the legislature, we thought, surely a governor with a background in healthcare would veto legislation that would muzzle doctors and allow gun-nut paranoia to trump medical standards.

Gov. Rick Scott, as he has done with 11 other NRA-backed bills, signed it. Maybe the former hospital chain CEO secretly expected some judge would toss the law before his bit of political expediency resulted in any real harm.

In June 2012, U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke did just that, issuing a permanent injunction, finding that the law, which bars doctors from inquiring about firearms, intruded into doctor-patient relationships and violated physicians’ First Amendment rights for no good reason.

Our state attorney general appealed, because Florida, at least that part of Florida in thrall to the NRA, prefers the Second Amendment to the First. Last Friday, the 11th Circuit appeals panel deemed gagging docs an acceptable “regulation of professional conduct.”

Consider some of the groups — not just the usual liberal outfits — outraged by the ruling: the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the American College of Surgeons, the American College of Preventive Medicine and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“We’re all stunned,” said Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, chairman of the University of Miami Department of Psychiatry and Behavior Sciences. He spoke Wednesday on how this law, with the threat of fines and loss of license, would inhibit doctors treating depressed or suicidal patients from a life-saving intervention. This in a nation that recorded 19,392 suicides by firearms in 2010.

Dr. Judy Schaechter, the interim chair of the UM medical school’s Department of Pediatrics, sent an e-mail to the pediatric faculty saying that she was “shocked — stunned” by a court ruling that “determined that doctors are not afforded full constitutional protections to talk with patients according to best practice medical guidelines.”

Schaechter wrote, “No law should ban doctors from taking steps to prevent injury or interfere in our ability to provide the best care to our pediatric patients.”

It was, indeed, Docs (and common sense) versus Glocks. As Schaechter stated, “The doctor-patient relationship has always been a private, protected one built on trust, so that we can talk about almost anything —be that gas, gallstones, gonorrhea or Grandpa’s loaded Glock.”