If you’re a pediatrician in Florida, what you’re permitted to ask your patients about guns in their home might be about to change.
A new bill called “Privacy of Firearm Owners” will permit physicians to ask children and teenagers about guns and ammunition at home only if they “in good faith [believe] that this information is relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others.” In addition, doctors also would not be allowed to note gun ownership in a patient record unless it is relevant to care.
The bill passed both houses of the Florida legislature and now goes before Governor Rick Scott.
The final version of the bill was as a compromise between the National Rifle Association and the Florida Medical Association. Initially, the legislation prohibited any discussion of gun ownership and carried both fines and prison time as potential penalties. Not adhering to the provisions of the law, if passed, could result in sanctions from the state medical board.
The impetus for the proposed legislation reportedly stems from a pediatrician in Ocala, Fla., who told a mother to find another physician after the mother refused to answer questions about gun ownership in the home.
The NRA, which supports the legislation, sees the issue primarily as one of privacy. Some pediatricians in the state see this instead as a safety issue.
“The purpose of the question about firearm access is to screen for risk and to start a conversation regarding safety practices that is in the best interest of the patient. As with all medical advice, the patient … [or the family] is free to take or discard the advice,” Dr. Judy Schaechter, associate chair of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said in an interview.
“Florida’s bill allows for questioning about gun access if ‘in good faith’ a health care provider believes the information is relevant to the patient’s medical care and safety. In absolutely good faith, I believe the information, and the professional, mutually respectful conversation which follows, is directly relevant to the medical care and safety of all children. Of course, that is why I opposed the bill in the first place.” (Dr. Schaechter also wrote an editorial in The Miami Herald last month).
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a statement expressing “grave concern” over the passage of the bill by the Florida legislature and urging the governor to veto the bill. “Pediatricians play a key role in injury prevention by providing anticipatory guidance to parents during office visits to lower the risk of injury in the child’s everyday environment,” the academy wrote. The AAP pointed out that similar legislation is pending in other states, including Alabama and North Carolina, and urged leaders there to reject such legislation.
Dr. Marilyn Butler, president of the Florida Medical Association, did not return a call for comment by posting time. However, she is quoted in another opinion piece in USA Today (written by the paper’s founder) saying: “The FMA opposes any intrusion into the patient-physician relationship. The FMA is satisfied that the current bill, as amended, protects the rights of patients, physicians, and gun owners.”
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