February 20, 2017
2 min read

AMA, ACP, other health associations laud court decision that allows physicians to discuss gun safety with patients

You've successfully added to your alerts. You will receive an email when new content is published.

Click Here to Manage Email Alerts

We were unable to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this issue please contact customerservice@slackinc.com.

Multiple medical groups are commending a recent federal appeals court ruling that overturned a Florida state law that prohibited doctors from talking to their patients about reducing injuries and deaths from firearms.

According to the AAP, had the law, known as the Firearms Owners Privacy Act, stayed in effect, physicians who asked patients routine questions and had discussions about firearm safety could be subject to penalties akin to those experienced under “egregious professional misconduct,” such as sanctions and loss of license.

The Florida chapters of the AAP, the AAFP and the ACP, and a group of six individual physicians challenged the 2011 law, arguing it violated free speech. Although a U.S. district court judge agreed with these parties, the state of Florida appealed the decision.

The AAP signed an amicus brief supporting the district court ruling to enjoin the law in November 2012, along with the AMA, the AAFP, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the American College of Surgeons, the American College of Preventive Medicine, and the American Psychiatric Association. 

 “We are delighted that the constitution has been defended, particularly when it comes to the First Amendment," Fernando Stein, MD, FAAP, president of AAP, said in a press release. “Pediatricians routinely counsel families about firearm safety just as they offer guidance on seat belt use, helmets and parental tobacco use to reduce the risk of injury to children where they live and play. These are all topics that families should feel very comfortable talking about with their pediatrician."

In a statement, the AMA said it was also relieved physicians will be able to speak freely without fear of repercussion.

“This case has always been about the First Amendment right to free speech, not the Second Amendment right to own and possess firearms. The court found no evidence that any doctor has infringed on patients’ Second Amendment rights,” the AMA wrote in a statement. “Counseling patients we care for makes a difference in preventing gun-related injuries and deaths. The political interests of state lawmakers do not justify infringing on the patient-physician relationship and stifling relevant medical discussions that are entitled to First Amendment protection.”

The ACP, which stated that it has been recommending physicians ask their patients about gun ownership during normal screenings for some time, was also grateful that doctors can continue to have open, unrestricted dialogue about gun safety with their patients.

“This is a huge victory for patient safety, and for physicians’ First Amendment rights” said Nitin Damle, MD, MS, MACP, president, ACP, said in a press release. “It clearly establishes that physicians have the right under the Constitution to freely discuss with their patients ways to prevent injuries and deaths, including those associated with having unsecured firearms in their home.”

The AAP stated that the conversations being threatened would save lives rather than harm them, as parents who discuss gun locks and safety with their doctors are more likely to use them.

The ACP echoed that sentiment, citing data from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence that indicated unintentional firearm injuries caused the deaths of 606 people in 2010 and that almost 3,800 people in the U.S. died from unintentional shootings from 2005 to 2010. The ACP had also issued a call to action in 2015 regarding policy reform on gun laws to help aid in the reduction of firearm-related injuries and deaths. – by Janel Miller

Disclosure: Stein is president of AAP, Damle is president of ACP.