State of Florida Should Stop Defending the Gun Gag Law

Statement attributed to: Andrew W. Gurman. M.D., President, American Medical Association

“With 30,000 men, women and children dying each year from gun violence, our country is facing a public health crisis that demands an active role from America’s physicians.  But lawyers for the State of Florida are arguing at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals today that doctors should be prohibited from asking patients about guns in the home.

“In 2011 Florida lawmakers passed the Privacy of Firearm Owners Act, which inserts the state into the patient-physician relationship and threatens open communication in the exam room. The AMA continues to challenge Florida’s ‘gun gag law’ as an unconstitutional attack on the patient-physician relationship and the free speech necessary for the practice of medicine.

“Behind the closed doors of an exam room, physicians routinely ask patients personal questions to facilitate preventive care – questions about their sexual behavior, alcohol and drug use, domestic violence, and other sensitive issues. Our role in preventing gun violence includes asking patients: Do you have guns at home? Are they kept locked separately from ammunition? Are they accessible to anyone else, especially children and individuals with mental health issues?

“These three questions can prompt a reasonable discussion, supported by evidence-based medicine and professional guidelines, which can help patients safeguard themselves and their families. Patients who receive physician counseling on firearm safety are more likely to adopt one or more safe gun-storage practices.

“But this practical discussion will be illegal if Florida is able to enforce the notion that gun safety is an issue that should not concern doctors. Yet, physicians treat victims of gun violence everyday: their wounds, paralysis, colostomies, brain injuries, depression, chronic infections and post-traumatic stress. When treatment is no longer an option, we also perform the autopsies.

“For doctors to do all they can to prevent the public health crisis of gun violence from continuing in Florida, the state should drop its defense of a law that stifles relevant medical discussions that are proven to save lives.”

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