AAFP Joins Other Groups Seeking to Overturn Florida Law

November 28, 2012 03:15 pm James Arvantes

The AAFP has joined with other major physician organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief(www.ama-assn.org) in a lawsuit that seeks to overturn a Florida law(www.flsenate.gov) prohibiting physicians from asking patients and their families about guns in their homes and from noting a patient's gun ownership in the patient's medical record.

[Gavel on top of book]

In the brief, the AAFP and nine other physician organizations said the statute, known as the Firearm Owners' Privacy Act, prevents physicians from communicating with their patients, and it prevents them from providing medical care according to accepted standards.

"Not only do physicians lose the right to express themselves freely, but their patients are deprived of the full range of medical care and professionalism that they should and do expect from their physicians," said the brief.

The brief also noted that "the statutory restraint on record keeping prevents physicians from taking a routine precaution that might enhance their defense against charges of medical malpractice."

story highlights

  • The AAFP has joined with other major physician organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief that seeks to overturn a Florida law that severely restricts the ability of physicians to discuss firearms safety with their patients.
  • The measure, enacted last year, prohibits physicians from intentionally entering firearms ownership information into a patient's medical record, and also bars physicians from asking their patients about firearms ownership.
  • AAFP President Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I., said the AAFP's opposition to the law is motivated by gun safety issues and preventive medicine and not by opposition to gun ownership.

Other physician organizations that signed onto the brief include the AMA, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American College of Surgeons, American College of Preventive Medicine, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and American Psychiatric Association.

Florida enacted the measure last year, but a U.S. District judge in Miami issued an injunction(www.prnewswire.com) in July, blocking enforcement of the law. The state filed an appeal to the judge's decision, and the AAFP and the other organizations then filed a friend-of-the-court brief in opposition to Florida's appeal. The Florida AFP was one of three physician groups that filed an initial suit in 2011 seeking to block enforcement of the law.

"The Florida law -- and our opposition to it -- has nothing to do with gun ownership," said AAFP Board Chair Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I., of Spokane, Wash., in an interview with AAFP News Now. "The issue is whether there are firearms in the house, and if there are, the physician should be able to talk to patients about gun safety -- the safe storage and maintenance of guns, for example, and keeping guns out of the reach of children."

Stream described gun ownership as "an important safety issue and an appropriate topic for family physicians to discuss with their patients and the patients' families in regard to overall preventive health."

The friend-of-the-court brief comes on the heels of a New England Journal of Medicine article written by the AAFP and four other physician-led organizations that calls on states to stop promoting and passing laws that infringe on the patient/physician relationship and that are not based on science and evidence.

According to Stream, the Florida law intrudes on the physician/patient relationship, and is an example of one of the overreaching laws cited in the New England Journal of Medicine article. "It is not taking a position against gun ownership simply by asking whether people have guns in their homes, and using that as an opportunity to discuss and counsel patients about gun safety," Stream said.