The New York Times reported on Feb. 16, 2017, about a new legislative decision pertaining to gun safety laws in Florida. According to the paper, it is now legally permissible for the doctors to freely talk about gun safety with their patients without fear of losing their medical licenses. This was clarified by a 10-to-1 ruling, which a federal appeals court in Miami gave out.
The new verdict has replaced an old legislation passed in 2011 on the same issue. The preceding law, as the appellate court pointed out, directly encroached upon the freedom of speech and expression of the medical fraternity, which is an important First Amendment right, according to the U.S. Constitution. Since, the crackdown prohibited them from openly querying patients about the possession of firearms and weapons before treatment. In addition, it also amounted to the violation of the Second Amendment of the patients’, as it tried infringing upon their right to keep and bear arms. However, the current judgement returns the lost privilege to the medical practitioners. It does so by taking a balanced view of the situation.
The appellate court found it completely unconstitutional and unethical to discriminate between patients based on their ownership of firearms, with the treatment odds stacked-up against those possessing them. At the same time, it agreed that increasing suicide rates, especially in the form of gun-related child deaths warrant an open discussion on firearms and their storage for mitigating the risk to public health and safety. This argument was originally made by the plaintiff medical professionals in their lawsuit, famously referred to as the “Docs Vs. Glocks,” christened after a popular handgun. This argument is more valid for more powerful rifles like the AR-15, and many of its common accessories.
The Republican-controlled Florida judicature, in its verdict observed and upheld the lack of carte blanche status of the State of Florida, thereby, rendering the previous judgment as null and void. Interestingly, the same legislature in 2011, with the full support of both Rick Scott, Governor of Florida and the National Rifle Association (NRA), had imposed restrictions on gun safety-related communications between medical staff and patients, solely directed at the paediatricians. The court, after listening to a series of worrisome anecdotes narrated by those patients not possessing any weapons, and still being forced to answer questions about gun ownership, which put them through a lot of harassment and embarrassment, was forced to ignore the existing carte blanche status and pass the ruling. The old law, apart from jeopardizing the medical licenses of those paediatricians found to query their patients and/or their family members about gun safety and storage, also tried to expand the purview of their penalty by imposing huge fines on them.
For the uninformed, a carte blanche status, according to Dictionary.com, means “unconditional authority and full discretionary power to act in a manner as one wishes to.” Hence, drawing analogy to the above definition, such a status prevents “putting restrictions on freedom of speech and expression of the medical community on a certain issue without fulfilling the demands for heightened security”, the legislative decision noted.