In Florida, Docs vs. Glocks Might Not Be Over, Despite Judge's Ruling

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Late last month, a federal judge ruled to toss out the Firearm Owners' Privacy Act, a law that prohibited state doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership. In the legal battle that carried the nickname "Docs vs. Glocks," U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke sided with the former in her ruling, finding the ban to be unconstitutional and its wording vague. While its supporters contended that the ban was to protect patients' Second Amendment right to bear arms, the judge saw it as an infringement on doctor's First Amendment freedom of speech rights.

As the debate continues, the Firearm Owner's Privacy Act's day in court may very well continue also. There's a chance the state Department of Health will appeal the court's ruling, while some are calling for the case to be appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Jay Millson, executive vice president of the Florida Academy of Family Physicians (one of the organizations in favor of repealing the ban) commented on the possibility of an appeal.

"Politics are messy," Millson said. "I'm sure there will be pressure to appeal it at some point. The only way that we see this is to allow physicians to treat patients and hopefully maintain the sanctity of that relationship."

Angela Castillo of Hernando Today also can see an appeal coming, as she stated in her column posted on July 7: "As often happens in such contentious disputes between well-financed litigants, expect an appeal." But meanwhile, Millson alluded to politics having nothing to even do with his organization's stance on the case.

"We would work to repeal anything that interferes with the ability for a physician to care for a patient. It really has nothing to do with the Second Amendment," he said. "For us, it's a really black and white issue-it's truly about safety, it has nothing to do with people's ability to carry a firearm or not."

The ban, which among others was backed by the National Rifle Association, stemmed from a complaint by an Ocala, Fla., patient who reportedly claimed a physician would no longer treat her after declining to answer gun-ownership questions. Since its inception last year to the recent ruling, the ban has drawn criticism.

"You license me to be a doctor to protect people and to protect the lives of the individual and others, but I can't ask a person if he has a gun? That does not make sense," said Dr. David Kalin, MD, who is the Executive Director of the International Board of Medicine and Surgery and a family practitioner in the Tampa Bay area.

"I think it's a dumb idea not letting a doctor ask about guns in the house," added Dr. Alan Sichelman, MD, who practices internal medicine and pediatrics also in the bay area. "If people don't want to tell you, they're going to lie anyway."

Both doctors clarified that gun ownership and use aren't topics they question their patients about frequently. Kalin stated there may be certain avenues of discussion that lead him to asking those types of questions, while Sichelman said if he sees a family at risk, then he may ask them questions regarding smoking, drinking or guns in the house.

And with criticism toward the ban comes an opposing side with criticism toward the repeal. In her article posted on July 7, Nancy Smith of Sunshine State News urged Florida Gov. Rick Scott to appeal Judge Cooke's decision. She quoted Molly Johanssen, a concerned Tallahassee business owner: "They can coerce the names and habits of gun owners out of doctors' medical records, that's what scares me most. Maybe it won't happen today or tomorrow, but the ability to do it is there."

Additionally, in an article posted on TampaBayOnline.com from Sept. 13, 2011, the same month Judge Cooke placed a temporary injunction on the ban, former NRA president and current lobbyist for the organization Marion Hammer, said, "Patients don't like being interrogated about whether or not they own guns when they take their child with a sore throat to a pediatrician, nor do they like being interrogated in an emergency room when their Little Leaguer broke his leg sliding into first base, to be interrogated about whether or not they own guns."

Smith, as well as lobbyists for the ban, may very well get their wish for the ruling to be appealed.

The National Rifle Association was contacted for additional comment, but did not immediately respond.

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