Docs vs. Glocks: Court Rules that Doctors Can Interrogate Patients About Guns

Send to Kindle

(Photo: The Trace)

A federal court ruled on Thursday that doctors have a constitutional right to ask about their patients’ firearms—and record their answers—even if those questions are irrelevant to the health of the patient.

The ruling ends a controversial battle between doctors and the state of Florida. The Florida state legislature passed a law in 2011 barring medical professionals from asking about their patients’ guns unless those questions were directly related to the patient’s situation (i.e., the patient was suicidal or violent).

The law was passed in response to two high-profile incidents. In the first, medical professionals separated children from their mother to ask about the mother’s guns. In the second incident, a pediatrician refused to treat a child after the child’s mother declined to answer questions about the guns she kept at home.

Despite this abuse, the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and other physician groups sued the state on the basis of First Amendment violations. Doctors have a First Amendment right to ask their patients about guns, they said, as long as these questions do not result in violations of the Second Amendment.

The full 11-member U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta sided with the doctors. “[T]here was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida Legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients’ firearms or otherwise infringed on patients’ Second Amendment rights,” wrote Judge Adalberto J. Jordan.

Three aspects of the Florida law are unconstitutional, according to the court: the ban on inquiry, record-keeping, and anti-harassment all violate doctors’ First Amendment rights. Judges did concede, however, that doctors cannot discriminate against patients on the basis of firearm ownership.

Doctors, especially pediatricians, have been encouraged by medical associations since the early 90’s to ask patients about gun ownership. They justify these “routine” questions on the basis of preventing “gun violence” by ensuring safe firearm storage.

“Firearm violence is an important health problem, and most physicians agree that they should help prevent that violence,” Garen J. Wintemute, a public health expert at the University of California Davis, told The Washington Post in May.

Second Amendment proponents—including many medical professionals—are understandably concerned about these lines of questioning. Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership points out that medical organizations often move beyond a concern for firearm safety by advising doctors to pressure their patients to get rid of their guns.

This American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement, for example, begins by simply stating that “the absence of guns from children’s homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents.” The organization supports “a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons; and the strongest possible regulations of handguns for civilian use.”

The AAP’s support of an “assault weapon” ban reveals their clear political bias, which is why many gun owners are also concerned about the record-keeping aspect of this issue. Answers to firearm-related questions are included in a patient’s permanent health record. Gun owners fear these records will one day be used against them, either as evidence for their parental irresponsibility or in a future effort to track guns and gun owners.

{ 46 comments… add one }
  • Mark March 5, 2017, 8:09 pm

    It’s not whether the doc asks you it’s the way they can separate you and your child and interrogate them separately, and that’s just wrong.

  • Wayne Clemon February 28, 2017, 3:02 pm

    I would remind any doctor that asked about my guns that the number of deaths from firearms pales by comparison to the number of deaths due to medical errors.

  • Wayne Clemon February 28, 2017, 2:44 pm

    the 2 doctors cited as high profile cases seem like they would be leaving themselves wide open to law suits, especially the one who refused treatment.

  • Steven February 26, 2017, 11:30 am

    I went and read Amendment 1, and sure enough, it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of doctors to interrogate patients about their arms or harangue them about the same, and to petition the Government for a redress from freedom lovers stopping doctoral abuse.”

  • Robert e cantu md February 25, 2017, 9:31 pm

    It says ask, not interrogate, Mr Hystrionic. What kinda doctor do you see?Maybe he should add antipsychotic to the mix.

  • Phil@ Whitehead February 25, 2017, 12:33 pm

    Just because they are allowed to ask, doesn’t mean we have to answer. The VA tried this crap also, and the overwhelming majority of Veterans replied by not playing along.
    Screw the 4th Circuit.

  • Danny February 24, 2017, 5:57 pm

    The company that my wife had for her post cancer in home care came for a visit(Administrator) I guess she saw some of my
    gun rags and asked her care giver if my wife owned guns! The caregiver just said she did not know.I guess she missed the Glock
    grandma keeps in a holster device right in her mattress..I was pissed at first then I just laughed about what a stupid bitch she was.
    Fucking liberals,it makes me laugh how ignorant these people are when they try and talk about guns..shit, they would probably
    piss themselves if they ever fired one..

    • Rob Osborne February 25, 2017, 2:37 pm

      I’m a Liberal and I love to shoot. Don’t recall ever pissing myself though.

      • Wayne Clemon February 28, 2017, 3:03 pm

        if you love to shoot you can thank conservatives for your gun rights

  • WhiteFalcon February 24, 2017, 5:31 pm

    If Docs question you about your guns you can tell them that is not a medical question, say “none of your damd business,” or , probably the easiest, just lie.

  • Boris February 24, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Do what any red blooded Democrat would do… Look him or her straight in the eye and lie.

  • Joe McHugh February 24, 2017, 2:03 pm

    Doctor: ” Do you keep arms in your home?”
    Patient: “Doctor we both know that guns in the home are a direct cause of tragic accidents involving children. Not only that, but I occasionally have down days and the simple availability of a gun could result in me taking my own life. Add to that the fact that a home invader could steal a gun being kept in the house, and use it in future crimes. Not to mention those times where a husband and wife become furious with one another. All in all doctor, it would be very foolish for me to have a gun in my home.”
    If the doctor presses for a direct answer, tell him or her that your wife or husband doesn’t like guns. If the doctor still wants a yes or no, look right at him or her and say, “After listing the reasons for not having a gun in the house do you really think that I would be stupid and foolish enough to do so?” Now the doctor is caught in a dilemma, to continue the questioning would strongly suggest that he or she thinks that you are stupid. By giving up on the interrogation, the doctor has a chance of
    saving the doctor/patient trust relationship. If the doctor is a true anti-gun advocate, you might want to find another doctor.

  • Douglas White February 24, 2017, 11:25 am

    DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE TO ANSWER GUN QUESTIONS FROM DOCTOR S OR STAFF.

    • deanbob February 24, 2017, 12:45 pm

      I’ve never had the subject broached by any of my doctors – and I am 68. If they did, I’d simply reply that it is none of their business. If the doctor refused to continue as my doctor, I’d say fine. I will do all within my power to let the world know of your position. Then I’d find a new doctor.

    • Kilroy was here February 24, 2017, 3:51 pm

      Not answering is being taken as a YES answer.

  • Bobo February 24, 2017, 11:00 am

    In return can I ask the doctor:
    Number of patients he kills each year or leaves disabled.
    A transcript of his marks in medical school
    The state of his married life and whether he and his wife are separated
    How much alcohol he consumes
    A credit report to make sure he’s financially stable thus lessening the possibility of doing unnecessary operations.

    • Phil Whitehead February 25, 2017, 12:37 pm

      You’re correct weedhopper…
      Medical Malpractice kills and wounds many more people than firearms.

  • krinkov545 February 24, 2017, 10:39 am

    Doc “Do you own any guns”? Me “Are any of your doctor buddies a proctologist”? Cuz I got a good idea where you can stick the question..

    • ExGob February 24, 2017, 2:08 pm

      10-4, Good Buddy! While anyone can ask you anytime they take a notion, there are no justifiable reasons why your physician needs to know anything about your guns, politics, godly beliefs, or anything else not relative to his/her diagnosis and/or treatment and maintenance of your body’s health. You are the doctor’s patient, and your visit complaint and health are priority during your visit. Questions about unrelated topics gives rise to the question “who is the doctor going to report the results to?” I guess my answer to unrelated questions would be: “I doubt that my answer to that would be of any value in today’s visit” Then if he/she got hostile….I would too.

  • Tim S February 24, 2017, 10:37 am

    “Don’t worry Doc. If you commit malpractice, I won’t shoot you. I’ll sue you. It’s the American way!”

  • FWiedner February 24, 2017, 10:12 am

    “Do you have guns in your home?”
    “No.”

    • Eric February 24, 2017, 6:47 pm

      Yup, just say “No.”

  • jerry kipikas February 24, 2017, 9:33 am

    I’ve been wondering about this myself–can’t wait til one of my doctor’s asks me that question. They may have the right to ask, but I sure as hell don’t have to answer. I’ll simply tell him that I refuse to answer and if he put anything other than the fact I refused in the file he stands a good chance of being sued. End of story.

  • Joe February 24, 2017, 9:18 am

    My Doctor is a gun owner, and he conceal carries a 9 mm kel-tec . You should pick a good gun owning doctor like mine.

  • Stewart Taylor February 24, 2017, 9:18 am

    People need to remember: doctors work for US!!! A doctor that tries to get into my private non-medical business won’t be my doctor anymore.

  • Blasted Cap February 24, 2017, 8:16 am

    That’s why on all the forms I fill out after the name and address section I write a big RTA, refuse to answer. None of their business what color I am, if I’m married, what religion, etc. If it doesn’t have anything to do with why I’m there, it doesn’t get answered.

  • Spartky February 24, 2017, 8:00 am

    Actually I was involved in a serious accident two years ago. I was unconscious when they went though my wallet and found my carry license. Was not carrying at the time. But then the officer who verbally itemized my possessions to me in the emergency room before surgery, did so in the presence of several doctors and nurses. So, I guess any such questions were mute at that point. There have been no repercussions – as far as I know, regarding that disclosure. Maybe in lib land it makes a difference when a prospective employer reviews health records though.

    • FALPhil February 24, 2017, 8:40 am

      Moot, not mute. Two totally different words with totally different definititions.

      • Retrocon February 24, 2017, 2:28 pm

        Unless he meant that the questions went quiet, were not asked, so they were muted doctors.

        Just funnin’ with ya.

  • Lou Gots February 24, 2017, 7:51 am

    This is really STU-PID. OF COURSE Doctors can ask you if you have a gun. I can ask you if you have a gun. You don’t have to tell me, if you don’t care to, and you don’t have to tell the doctor. Prudent people to not advertise our gun ownership in any way to anyone.

    This is a nothing, nothing case. Some STU-PID, STU-PID people got a useless, meaningless law passed, the law got shot down i court, and now the gun-grabbers are playing it up as though it were a B.F.D. . It’s not.

    • Mark February 24, 2017, 5:05 pm

      Not a stupid question in New York State. Under the “Safe Act” nearly any “diagnosis” by medical staff, court order (restraining order, justified or not – think divorce proceedings…) can justify law enforcement to seize your legally purchased firearms. Not stupid, not funny, but happening here now. A recent hospitalization on my return from South America led to an unsolicitied vist by the staff shrink and his apprentice (I know those arene;t the terms). They asked me if I was depressed. I was on oxygen and being treated for pneumonia, had several parasites in my system and had lost 50 pounds (185 to 129 lbs) in a period of weeks. I was dumb founded. I aksed them to send me a Catholic priest to administer my last rites (and I also know that is not the correct term for that ritural). They seemed offended, God only knows what they wrote down about me. This is not a “moot” point, and we shouldn’t remain “mute” Our constitution is clear on our “God given rights..”

  • Spartky February 24, 2017, 7:47 am

    If a doctor refuses to treat me because I refuse to answer a stupid question like that I will sue if lack of treatment affects my health. He has a right to ask. I have the right to take the fifth.

  • Robert February 24, 2017, 7:41 am

    LOL……A DENTIST? A Podiatrist? This is getting really stupid.

  • Peter Wall February 24, 2017, 6:37 am

    I always exercise my freedom of choice. Florida is a peninsula a land mass surrounded by water on three sides boating accidents have been known to happen.

  • JGlnNJ February 24, 2017, 6:24 am

    On the surface I don’t care about the details of an interaction between a doctor and a patient. Questions from doctors about guns are voluntary, and so are answers. Isn’t this something like the “voluntary” discussion with your doctor about “end of life” care in some Federal medical law? If doctors “voluntarily” bring up questions regarding weapon ownership, use and storage, can they itemize that on a bill to an insurance company that justifies a charge? Can they bill Medicaid or Medicare for providing the service? If they are going to get paid to do it you can bet the questions will be routinely asked at every encounter.

    • John Browning February 24, 2017, 9:49 am

      I would tell my doctor to go _ _ ck himself, in a heartbeat. And then fire him.

  • Jen February 24, 2017, 3:39 am

    They can ask people all the questions they like about their firearms, doesn’t mean they’re going to get a truthful answer..

    It’s no different than a stranger asking you if you own firearms, their medical degree not withstanding, unless they are someone you personally know and trust, what weapons you own (if any) is absolutely none of their business.

    • Joe McHugh February 24, 2017, 2:13 pm

      Jen, good points, however let’s consider the reason for keeping private gun ownership secret in the first place. Anyone, or any organization can ask if you own a gun. The resistance to answering that question is based on the possible USE of the information, if you are a gun owner. Would such information get forwarded to the government, or could it be? If so, you are really talking to the government, and the questioner is simply a surrogate for the government. The people in the government are our employees, not our masters.

      This is the thing, the Second Amendment was created to provide the people with a credible means to resist tyranny. Any government could become a tyranny that abuses the inherent rights of the people. It is not only the right of the citizen to mislead, or even to lie about the firearms that he or she may possess, it is his or her DUTY to do so. A government that does not know how many people keep and bear arms, is a government that will always hesitate to become authoritarian in nature.

      The would-be tyrant knows that he cannot abuse the rights of an armed populace. A government that is kept ignorant about private firearm ownership remains a government of timid leaders, leaders who must answer to the people. We, the people, control the government, the government does not control us. Yep, the wage earners underwrite their compensation checks, they really are our employees. It’s way past the time to put these people in their proper places.

  • Kyle February 24, 2017, 2:43 am

    And I reserve the right to lie

  • Nate February 21, 2017, 10:53 pm

    point of fact… Patients also have a constitutional right to tell doctors who ask them about their guns to shut the hell up and find another doctor.

  • Christian February 21, 2017, 11:13 am

    „A federal court ruled on Thursday that doctors have a constitutional right to ask about their patients’ firearms—and record their answers—even if those questions are irrelevant to the health of the patient.“

    And so, the patient also has the constitutional right to not answer the question or to lie and just say: “I don’t own any guns.” Funny, they say the doctors have a constitutional right to ask this question and well, maybe they really have. But at the same time, they try to deny the constitutional right of the American people in many states when it comes to guns, for example this horrible gun free zone in Chicago.

    Funny, just after Attorney General Maura Healey from Massachusetts has declared that doctors shall now talk with their patients about gun safety (https://www.gunsamerica.com/blog/mass-attorney-general-urges-doctors-to-talk-gun-safety-with-patients/) the doctors of Florida now have quite the same right and maybe even order to do so. Maybe it is just a coincidence that both cases happened so close to each other, yet I still doubt it. This looks like being something bigger to me, although again just say “I don’t own any guns.”, if your doctor should ask you. Even if you lie, it is your constitutional right to do so. I mean, politicians lie plenty of times every day to the whole nation, so why shouldn’t the normal people do the same thing, even if they do this to their doctors? I see no problem with that.

  • Will Drider February 20, 2017, 7:54 pm

    Rights can and often are restricted by employers during working hours and anytime a person is representing the Company. In turn, we pay insurance or direct pay Doctors. They work for US when they are providing services, therefore free speech Rights do not apply.

    The Docs aren’t targeting any of the more common hazards to your life: driving, home pool, noise hazards, power tools, own a ladder, motorcycles/ATVs, sexual orientation or dangerous employment. Just want to ask specifically about firearms. Anyone think they will ask if we use eye and ear protection or if we only reload within specs? No, I bet they don’t.

    Does this allow Docs to make a “gun owner” entry in your file? YES IT DOES! Surely that will affect you insurance rates and don’t forget Life Insurance companies also require you release your med records when applying for or increasing you policy.

    Lets say your a non gun person and the doc asks do you own a gun? You reply I don’t want to talk about guns. Guess what he will write? Doctors will routinely Round up answers when you are hesitant to answer: 10 Smokes a day = a pack. A beer Fri/Sat or wine with meals becomes “daily usage.”

    This is just one more step in formally inserting the medical field into gun control. Just like other gun control laws: it forces honest people to lie in order to protect their privacy. Gun violence is NOT a medical issue, neither is criminal activity and the latter is the problem. A criminal may use a gun in a violent act against others. A person that shoots himself (deliberately or negligently) is not preforming a violent act, messy: yes, criminal: possibly.

    The 4th and 14th Ammendments apply. We are not under any oath when we talk to a doctor nor are they our confessors. Treat them as they are, your employee and tell them only what they need to know. I may strap on a big ass knife for my next Dr visit and see what he says. I do CC a handgun on all non intrusive (put on a gown) visits.

  • CharlieKing1 February 20, 2017, 5:31 pm

    AAP shows its obvious bias against firearms. Maybe if they spent more time about the safe storage of firearms rather than out and out getting rid of them, they might have some credibility. As far as I\’m concerned, it\’s NUNYA! When the docs and the AAP show me their firearm proficiency creds and safety training records, I might start listening to them and answering their questions about firearm ownership. And yes, it will become part of your permanent record that can be used against you down the road.

  • CharlieKing1 February 20, 2017, 5:30 pm

    AAP shows its obvious bias against firearms. Maybe if they spent more time about the safe storage of firearms rather than out and out getting rid of them, they might have some credibility. As far as I’m concerned, it’s NUNYA! When the docs and the AAP show me their firearm proficiency creds and safety training records, I might start listening to them and answering their questions about firearm ownership. And yes, it will become part of your permanent record that can be used against you down the road.

  • gary February 20, 2017, 10:22 am

    Ask away , I can also chose how I answer. These Lib’s are going too far at this point. When does this type of BS become invasion of PRIVACY of my own DOMAIN? I also know when to say enough is enough and find a new doctor that is more in line with my way of thinking. Has anyone thought of that, hit them in their pockets, they have high insurance bills for a reason.
    They need your money too!!!!!!!

  • George February 20, 2017, 9:01 am

    My doctor can ask me about guns, doesn’t mean I am going to tell him anything. Also, he may not be my doctor for very long.

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend