Kansas State Rifle Association Annual Meeting
DRGO’s latest agenda item was my appearance as a guest speaker and panelist at the Kansas State Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Wichita, Kansas on June 2. The KSRA is the Kansas NRA state affiliate, and appropriately, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre was the keynote speaker. KSRA President Patricia Stoneking, VP Leah Herron, and Judge Phillip Journey were my generous hosts for the weekend. My friends and fellow gun rights activists David Kopel and Alan Korwin were my co-panelists.
My presentation topic was Florida’s Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act, also known as the Docs v. Glocks law. The Florida legislature and Governor Scott passed this law last year in response to the problem of doctors misusing the doctor-patient relationship to push anti-gun politics in the doctor’s office. Below is a version of my speech edited for easier reading. Watch for further developments as this case proceeds through the courts. As a side note, our good friends at the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence will be submitting an amicus curiae brief in this case at some point during the appeals process. See their amicus brief in Peruta v. County of San Diego, in which DRGO was an amicus.
Thanks to the new people who have contacted me for more information about DRGO in the three days since our web site launched. Let’s stay in touch!
Timothy W. Wheeler, MD
Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership (DRGO)
A Project of the Second Amendment Foundation
Florida’s Docs v Glocks law and court case (Wollschlaeger et al. v. Farmer et al.)
Presented June 2, 2012 in Wichita, Kansas
For years the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA) and other medical organizations had had in place official policy urging doctors to probe their patients about guns in their homes and advising them to get rid of their guns.
These medical organizations had adopted these policies back in the 1990s, when it was more politically correct to advocate for gun bans. We all know how that turned out. The Clinton so-called assault weapon ban expired in 2004, and we saw no increase in gun crime because of it. The number of states with right-to-carry laws grew from a handful to 49 (soon to be 50). The Supreme Court delivered the one-two punch of the Heller and McDonald decisions and affirmed the right of self-defense with legally owned firearms. As all this unfolded, the public became more educated about the importance of the right of self-defense. And so the political tide shifted in its favor, and many new state and local laws were passed in support of that right.
Some of the smaller medical organizations that had jumped on the gun control bandwagon in the 1990s noticed these developments and decided maybe they shouldn’t be in the gun control business after all. They quietly dropped gun control from their agendas.
But the American Academy of Pediatrics didn’t get the memo. In fact, to this day, if you go to the AAP’s web site you will see their official firearms policy statement. Under a section titled “Second Amendment Issues,” the policy reads:
“… the ‘right’ to bear arms is linked to the preservation of state militias and is not intended to provide for an individual’s right to own a firearm. The federal government could ban whole categories of firearms, such as handguns and assault weapons.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics policy still reads this way four years later, even though Justice Scalia summed up the exact opposite position in the Heller case:
“But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics is in extreme denial. They pretend that the Heller and McDonald decisions never happened, and they deny that the political winds have shifted over the last 25 years.
The turning point came in the town of Ocala, Florida in the summer of 2010. Amber Ullman took her baby daughter in to the pediatrician for a checkup. The doctor followed standard AAP policy and asked her whether she had a gun in her home. When Mrs. Ullman refused to answer on the grounds of privacy invasion, the pediatrician terminated the mother and daughter from his practice.
So here a young mother just took her baby in to the pediatrician for a well-baby checkup and found herself being grilled about guns in her home by a pediatrician, a profession that has for years been on record as aggressive supporters of gun bans. When she objected to the invasion of privacy, the doctor kicked her and her child out of his practice.
The story quickly hit Florida news outlets and bounced into the national media. It clarified for the nation a problem that had been repeated around the country in similar episodes for years. Now people began to ask questions: What are these doctors doing, anyway? Do they have any business asking us about our guns, especially when we know they disapprove of gun ownership and would like to see our guns banned?
Through the efforts of the National Rifle Association and the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act was passed into Florida law about a year later. The law makes it grounds for disciplinary action against a doctor or other health care practitioner to:
a) ask their patients about firearm ownership
b) record information about firearm ownership in the patient medical record
But the law makes an exception for cases where the health care practitioner believes in good faith that information about firearm ownership is relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety. This is a huge loophole that in effect renders the law little more than a statement of intent by the legislature. Why? The whole premise of antigun rights medical organizations policy— the American Academy of Pediatrics, the AMA, and others—is that asking patients about guns in the home is the standard of medical care.
Further provisions of the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act:
a) applies the same restrictions to health care facilities
b) a patient may decline to answer a doctor’s questions about gun ownership
c) health care practitioners shall respect a patient’s legal right to own a firearm and
“should refrain from unnecessarily harassing a patient about firearm ownership
during an examination.”
d) prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against an insured on the basis of
lawful ownership of firearms.
e) adds the law’s patient protections to the Florida Patient’s Bill of Rights.
The reaction from the medical organizations to this law was immediate and predictable. Articles appeared in medical journals, repeating the same old arguments about guns being a public health threat. The mainstream media did their duty and repeated the party line of gun control, most of which had been discredited years ago by social science research.
And a lawsuit was filed by the Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Physicians to prevent implementation of the law. Last September a judge in the U.S. District Court granted a preliminary injunction stopping the law from taking effect for now. The matter is not settled, and appeals will continue.
What has been accomplished by passage of Florida’s Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act?
1) The law and ensuing legal battle have focused national media attention on the ongoing problem of medical ethics violations. A small but vocal minority of doctors misuse the doctor patient relationship to advocate a political agenda against gun owners. When doctors do that they are committing an ethical boundary violation, which is a form of professional misconduct. The Florida Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act now makes it official. We can use it as an example for the other states.
2) The law has shown the American public that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the AMA, and the others really want to promote not gun safety, but gun control. If they really wanted to teach their patients gun safety, as they say they do, they would partner with the experts in gun safety education—the NRA and its state affiliates like the KSRA, with its Junior Shooting Camp. These are grassroots, citizen-supported organizations. They have spent millions of dollars and untold hours teaching kids and adults the basics of gun safety. But the doctors have not only refused to work with us, they have tried to demonize these organizations and their members, who are you and me.
3) The judge who put a hold on the Florida law said the law violates the doctors’ First Amendment right of free speech. Now I’m not a lawyer, but I do know this: the states routinely regulate doctors’ speech. For example, the California Business & Professions Code prohibits several types of doctors’ speech, or communication with patients: specifically, false advertising, advising a patient to undergo alternative medicine treatments, soliciting a romantic or sexual relationship with a patient, and failure to communicate certain informed consent issues. Could it be argued that the state of Florida can indeed rightly regulate doctors’ speech, especially when it’s aimed at infringing a constitutional right—the right to keep and bear arms?
IN CONCLUSION, we can see that the greatest good to come from passage of Florida’s Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act is this: the law and its legal challenge have brought to the public’s attention the ongoing problem of widespread ethical boundary violations by doctors. Doctors have now been put on notice: when they bring anti-gun politics into the exam room, they do so at their own risk.