Florida could become the first state in the nation to bar doctors from asking parents and other patients if they have guns in their homes, a measure that opponents say endangers children and adolescents.
The Florida Legislature has passed the “Don’t Ask” bill and it now awaits the likely signature of the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, a supporter of gun rights. House Bill 155 generally would prohibit a physician or other health care professionals from asking patients or members of their families whether they own a firearm or have one in their home.
Supporters of the bill, including the National Rifle Association, say they want to stop doctors from invading their privacy, and are concerned the information may be used against them by insurance companies. “Simply, it’s none of their business,” Marion Hammer, executive director of United Sportsmen of Florida, told the News Service of Florida earlier this year.
State Rep. Jason Brodeur, a Republican, proposed the bill after a much-publicized incident in which an Ocala, Fla., pediatrician told the mother of a 4-month-old boy to find another doctor when she refused to answer questions about guns in her home. Similar legislation has been proposed in Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama and North Carolina.
Opponents say doctors need to ask patients about guns in the home to make sure they are stored properly. As NPR reports, the American Academy of Pediatrics has encouraged its members for decades to ask questions about guns and how they are stored as part of well-child visits.
According to the academy, a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill someone known to the family than it is to kill someone in self-defense. And children and young adults are particularly at risk for accidental injury and death from guns.
“We feel that physicians will be reluctant to ask about guns in the home as a result of this legislation. As a result we expect that, unfortunately, there will be an increase in injury and death of children and adolescents due to improperly stored guns,” Dr. Louis St. Petery, a pediatrician in Tallahassee, told MyHealthNewsDaily.
The bill has an exception allowing doctors to ask about guns if the information “is relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others.” But some pediatricians and other doctors say that wording is too vague to provide adequate protection.
Violators of the law can be reported to the state medical board for possible disciplinary action. In the original version of the bill, violations could have been prosecuted as a felony.