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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Another one bites the dust.

A Miami federal judge has struck down the new law prohibiting Florida doctors from discussing gun ownership with their patients. The ruling extends the legal losing streak of Gov. Rick Scott and right-wing lawmakers, who have set a pathetic record for unconstitutional bills.

Written by the National Rifle Association, the so-called Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act would have prevented concerned physicians from asking patients about guns kept in their houses. It’s a reasonable query in domestic situations in which children might be at risk.

But the GOP-controlled legislature wants doctors to shut up about guns and stick to lecturing women about their abortion decisions. So much for privacy.

By necessity, doctors ask lots of personal questions. Are you using any illegal drugs? How much alcohol do you drink in a week? Do you smoke cigarettes? Do you suffer from depression?

We’ve all filled out the checklists while sitting in the waiting room. And, on the examination table, we’ve all heard doctors and nurses ask things we wouldn’t post on Facebook.

Say, have you noticed if your urine is changing color?

Uh, no.

Most of us have never been asked by our health-care providers whether we have a gun, or where on the premises we keep it. However, most of us don’t have bullet scars, needle tracks or booze on our breath when showing up for a medical appointment.

Some people do, and too often they have kids. Doctors who ask questions are usually just doctors who care, and the best doctors have more questions than others.

The ban on asking about gun habits originated after an Ocala couple reportedly claimed their physician wouldn’t treat them anymore because they refused to talk about it. Cue the NRA, which had no trouble finding a stooge in the legislature to sponsor a bill that effectively prohibited physicians from raising the subject.

Republican supporters claimed that merely by inquiring about firearms in the house, doctors are infringing on a patient’s Second Amendment rights. The argument is embarrassingly lame. Suggesting that someone put a trigger lock on their handgun is not quite the same as confiscating it.

Extending the legislature’s knothead logic, a doctor who promotes the safe use of condoms is violating your constitutional right to accidentally impregnate whomever you want.

The gun law was doomed in the courts from the day the NRA hacks delivered it. Still, it passed last year and was proudly signed by Scott, generating a swift legal challenge from the Florida Pediatric Society, the Florida Academy of Family Physicians and other groups.

In the media, the battle became known as “Docs vs. Glocks,” and on June 29 the docs won.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke made permanent an order blocking the law, saying it violated the free-speech rights of physicians. She said the wording of the legislation was “vague” and offered no guidelines for health-care practitioners.

For instance, the statute allowed doctors to ask about firearms only if they believed in “good faith” that the information was relevant to a patient’s care and safety. Yet no specific standards were laid out in the law.

The judge said it had a “chilling” effect on medical providers who feared heavy fines or even losing their licenses if they spoke to families about gun safety — a rather serious health issue in Florida, judging by the number of emergency room admissions.

Increasingly, doctors around the country are putting firearm ownership on their checklists of questions for patients. That’s because, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, one out of every 25 children delivered to pediatric trauma centers has a gunshot wound.

It’s likely that Florida will appeal Judge Cooke’s decision and try to reinstate the doctor-muzzling law. The governor thinks it’s a dandy piece of legislation, and totally constitutional. His hapless scorecard in that area speaks for itself.

Tom Julin, a prominent First Amendment lawyer involved in challenging the statute, recently wrote in the South Florida Sun Sentinel: “The fact of the matter is the NRA asked the Legislature to pass this law to censor doctors who might advocate gun control the NRA opposes. Doctors who see children bearing bullet holes on a regular basis can be very powerful advocates.”

To do their jobs right, doctors are obligated to ask about anything that might affect the health of you and your family.

You certainly can’t be forced to answer those questions, just as your doctor can’t be forced to keep you as a patient. Take your funny-colored pee and move on.

(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)


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