The gun lobby has pushed state governments to enact laws that infringe on individual rights and impede sensible gun violence prevention policies. The Brady Center and the Ropes & Gray LLP law firm is representing physicians in Florida to challenge law that restricts docotrs' ability to effectively counsel patients about the dangers associated wth guns in the home, in violation of the First Amendment.
The Florida legislature in 2011 passed H.B. 155, a law that generally prohibits doctors from talking about gun safety with patients, or asking whether they own guns. While doctors routinely ask and warn patients about health and safety risks, the law subjects health care providers to possible sanctions, including fines and loss of their license, if they discuss or record information in a patient’s chart about firearm safety and ownership that a medical board later determines was not “relevant” or was “unnecessarily harassing.” The law fails to define these terms.
The law was heavily criticized by pediatricians and medical organizations, who correctly recognize firearms in the home as a safety hazard for children. Studies have shown that one-third of U.S. homes with children younger than 18 have a firearm, and that more than 40 percent of gun-owning households with children store their guns unlocked, with one-fourth of those homes storing them loaded. According to one study, children aged 5 to 14 years in the United States are 11 times more likely to be killed accidentally with a gun than similarly aged children in other developed countries. Because of these well-documented risks, pediatricians advise parents to keep guns away from children, secured with gun locks and stored separately from ammunition.
On June 6, 2011, the Brady Center, with Ropes and Gray and other law firm partners, filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida to block enforcement of the gag rule and have it struck down. The Brady Center and its partners filed the lawsuit on behalf of three family doctors and pediatricians, as well as the Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Physicians.
The lawsuit, which has become known as “Docs v. Glocks,” argues that the Florida gag rule law violates basic First Amendment rights, both of doctors to share information with their patients and of patients to receive that information. The suit also argues that the vague and undefined descriptions of what kind of conduct is prohibited by the law violate the physicians’ right to due process.
The Brady Center filed an amended complaint and a motion for a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the law on June 24, 2011. On June 27, the NRA filed a motion to intervene in the case on behalf of the state; U.S. District Court Judge Marcia G. Cooke denied the NRA’s motion on July 8, and granted the plaintiff’s request for an injunction on September 14. After both parties filed for summary judgment in November 2011, Judge Cook ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on June 29, 2012 and issued a permanent injunction blocking the law.
The state appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, where oral arguments were held on July 18, 2013. On July 25, 2014, the Eleventh Circuit issued a 2-1 ruling in favor of the state. The plaintiffs filed a petition for en banc review of the decision by the entire Eleventh Circuit on August 15, 2014. A decision is forthcoming.
Along with the Brady Center, lead counsel for the plaintiffs is Douglas H. Hallward-Driemeier of Ropes & Gray LLP in Washington, DC. Plaintiffs are also represented by Edward M. Mullins and Hal M. Lucas of Astigarraga Davis Mullins & Grossman, P.A. in Miami, Florida.