In a previous blog post, Politics and Limiting Physician Speech, I discussed the Florida Gag Rule intended to prevent physicians from discussing firearm safety with patients. At the time, I expressed outrage that “there are laws curtailing a physician’s free speech and efforts to dictate practice based on political philosophy.”
It looks my views have been vindicated. NEJM report (full text): Physicians, Firearms, and Free Speech
In February, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued its long-awaited ruling in Wollschlaeger v. Governor, State of Florida, invalidating parts of Florida’s Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act (FOPA) and affirming that the First Amendment applies to the speech between physicians and patients. The decision ensures that physicians may continue to make efforts to protect their patients from gun-related injuries, many of which are fatal and which in aggregate account for approximately as many deaths annually as do motor vehicle accidents….
the majority affirmed that laws regulating physician speech must be designed to enhance rather than harm patient safety. The majority took this mandate seriously and required the state to show some meaningful evidence that the regulation was apt to serve the state’s interest in protecting patients.
The state could not do so for two reasons. First, the decision to keep a gun in the home substantially increases the risk of death for all household members, especially the risk of death by suicide, and particularly so when guns are stored loaded and unlocked, as they are in millions of homes where children live.3 Second, the majority of U.S. adults who live in homes with guns are unaware of the heightened risk posed by bringing guns into a home.4 Indeed, by providing accurate information about the risks created by easy access to firearms, as well as ways to modify that risk (e.g., by storing guns unloaded and locked up, separate from ammunition), a physician’s counseling can not only enhance a patient’s capacity for self-determination, but also save lives…
The fact is that most clinicians, including those who routinely encounter suicidal patients, rarely, if ever, provide firearm-safety counseling.5 This reticence predated the FOPA and has persisted since its passage..The court has done its duty. It’s now the physicians’ turn.
Related blog posts: