Op-Ed

Courts wisely free Florida’s doctors to ask about guns

TNS

Let’s not mince words. Once again, the courts have rescued the people of Florida from the extremism of their own legislature.

Attorney General Pam Bondi and Governor Rick Scott let the deadline pass to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court the decision striking down the gag order on doctors in the infamous “Docs v. Glocks” case.

Whether this was an intentional decision to throw in the towel on this dangerous and unconstitutional restriction on freedom of speech or simply neglect, we don’t know. But any threat to strip a doctor of his or her license for talking to patients about the safe storage of guns in the home has been removed.

The ACLU, aided by an exceptionally skilled legal team, worked for six years on behalf of more than a half dozen medical, pediatric and children’s rights organizations in support of the doctors who courageously challenged the state’s effort to gag their discussions with patients about gun safety – and especially keeping guns out of the reach of children.

Yes, there is a constitutional right to own a gun. We all get that. But our Legislature was conned into swallowing the fiction that talking about guns and gun safety somehow threatened this constitutional right.

What is important now 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. And this includes counseling patients who own guns to ensure that they are safely stored to prevent suicides and out of the reach of children to prevent tragic accidental shootings.

One of the many reasons that this case was so important is that Florida became a test case. If the courts didn’t stand up for the free speech of doctors, you could be sure that the NRA would have had this dangerous law introduced in every state Legislature. But the strong affirmation of free speech by the federal appeals court hopefully ends this deadly threat here.

This victory for the freedom of speech for doctors and the medical community had to overcome the collective opposition of very powerful forces, including the NRA who sponsored this dangerously mistaken policy, the Legislature that adopted it, the governor who signed it, and the attorney general who defended it in the courts.

But after six years, that is now thankfully behind us.

Howard Simon is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

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