By Timothy Wheeler
Why would the Florida Legislature pass a law that prevents doctors from asking patients about guns in their homes?
Opponents of the law, now struck down by the U.S. District Court, maintain that the law violates doctors’ First Amendment right of free speech. The doctors insist they only want to educate patients about gun safety.
But none of the doctor organizations fighting the law have admitted to the public why the “Docs vs. Glocks” law, or Firearm Owner’s Privacy Act, was necessary in the first place. Not the American Academy of Pediatrics. Not the American Academy of Family Physicians. Not even U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke, who didn’t even mention in her opinion the years-long gun control campaign waged by medical organizations.
Here’s the truth: the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), and other medical organizations want guns banned. As far back as 1996, the AAP distributed a pamphlet jointly with the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, a part of the Brady Campaign, then tellingly known as Handgun Control, Inc. The pamphlet, part of an ad campaign called STOP, advised parents, “The best way to reduce gun risks is to remove the gun from your home.”
The AAP further reinforces its gun-ban message in its official policy, detailed on the AAP website. The policy’s summary and recommendation section reads, “The AAP recommends that pediatricians incorporate questions about guns into their patient history taking and urge parents who possess guns to remove them, especially handguns, from the home.”
This advice crosses the line from proper safety guidance to political activism in the doctor’s office. But doctors felt empowered by the directive from the AAP to spread the gospel of gun control, using their examination rooms as a bully pulpit.
The problem came to Floridians’ attention in the summer of 2010 when 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.
The pediatrician’s abrupt dismissal of the mother and her baby from his practice touched a nerve. It was public reaction to inappropriate conduct by a doctor that prompted the Legislature to pass the Firearm Owner’s Privacy Act.
Doctors are ethically bound to act in the best interests of their patients. Their focus should be on the patient’s health problems. When the doctor introduces some other agenda of his own, such as AAP-style gun-control advocacy, the patient’s needs take a back seat.
Worse, the patient can lose trust in the doctor. Doctor misconduct of this kind is called an ethical boundary violation. State governments routinely curb such errant physician behavior with sanctions, including action against a doctor’s license.
The Firearm Owner’s Privacy Act provides just such protections for patients. U.S. District Court Judge Cook insists that the pediatricians’ speech with their patients is “truthful and non-misleading,” and therefore should enjoy free-speech protection.
But the record shows the opposite. Instead, the doctors are following a hidden agenda laid out for them years ago by the American Academy of Pediatrics — an agenda that would take guns away from Floridians.
Gov. Scott is to be commended for fighting to keep the Firearm Owner’s Privacy Act on the books for the protection of Florida’s families.
—Timothy Wheeler, MD is director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.