MIAMI (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge on Wednesday blocked a Florida law limiting what doctors can say about guns to their patients, saying it violated free speech protections under the Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in Miami granted a preliminary injunction preventing the state and Governor Rick Scott, a Tea Party-backed Republican and former healthcare executive, from enforcing the so-called Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act with immediate effect.
The controversial law took effect in June and was believed to be the first of its kind in the country. Florida has some of the most liberal firearms laws anywhere in the United States and vigorously protects private gun ownership.
With all but a few exceptions, the Florida law barred doctors from questioning their patients about guns in their homes or advising them about firearms safety.
Gun rights supporters had argued that such questioning from doctors violated their right to privacy.
But in her written argument granting the injunction, Cooke reasoned that the law also “chilled” free speech.
“This case concerns one of our Constitution’s most precious rights — the freedom of speech,” she said.
“The law curtails practitioners’ ability to inquire about whether patients own firearms and burdens their ability to deliver a firearm safety message to patients,” Cooke said.
“The Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act thus implicates practitioners’ First Amendment rights of free speech,” she said.
Just as importantly, she said the law “implicates patients’ freedom to receive information about firearms safety, which the First Amendment protects.”
Plaintiffs in the case included the Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
In her ruling, Cooke noted that those same groups publish practice guidelines and policy statements that recommend that doctors routinely provide counseling and guidance on the prevention of injuries, including automotive safety and firearms safety.
“Information regarding firearm ownership is not sacrosanct,” Cooke wrote in her ruling.
“Federal and state statues heavily regulate firearm ownership, possession and sale and require firearm owners to provide personal information in certain circumstances as a condition for obtaining a firearm or certain licenses,” she said.
Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Cynthia Osterman