MIAMI - A federal judge yesterday blocked enforcement of a first-in-the-nation law that restricted what Florida physicians can say about guns to their patients, ruling the law violates the US Constitution’s free-speech guarantees and does not trample gun rights.
US District Judge Marcia Cooke said it was important to emphasize “the free flow of truthful, non-misleading information within the doctor-patient relationship.’’
“This case concerns one of our Constitution’s most precious rights - the freedom of speech,’’ said Cooke, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush. “A practitioner who counsels a patient on firearm safety, even when entirely irrelevant to medical care or safety, does not affect or interfere with the patient’s right to continue to own, possess, or use firearms.’’
The law was passed earlier this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law June 2 by Governor Rick Scott, a Republican. The governor, the National Rifle Association, and other supporters contended it was a violation of privacy and possibly the Second Amendment for doctors to question patients about guns at home.
But physicians’ groups representing some 11,000 doctors and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence sued.
They said the law halted meaningful discussions between doctors and patients - especially parents with guns - about keeping the weapons out of the hands of children.
Dr. Lisa Cosgrove, president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the ruling will help save lives.
She said doctors routinely counsel patients about safety issues at home, on everything from backyard swimming pools to use of bike helmets.
“Sometimes, it’s just a reminder that if you are a gun owner, you make sure you are a responsible gun owner,’’ said Cosgrove, a pediatrician. “Children cannot make these decisions about safety for themselves. Parents have to be the guides for that.’’
Daniel Vice, senior attorney with the Brady Center in Washington, said the decision invalidates a “dangerous and blatantly unconstitutional law.’’
“Especially with eight kids shot and killed every day in America, it’s crucial that doctors be able to talk about the severe risk of guns in the home,’’ Vice said.