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    How the Docs vs. Glocks ruling affects physicians

    The conversations doctors are allowed to have with their patients regarding guns and other firearms, if any, are the central part of a new ruling overturning most aspects of a highly controversial law that has undergone several appeals and reversals since its inception in 2011.


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    The law, called the Firearms Owners’ Privacy Policy Act, was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Feb. 16, 2017. According to attorney Janet Bastawros, owner of The Law Office of Janet Bastwaros, “the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recent ruling was based on the decision that the law violated medical professionals’ constitutional right to free speech. In other words, medical professionals no longer have to fear sanctions or potentially losing their license for having potentially lifesaving conversations with their patients about gun safety and providing medical advice.”

    The law states that healthcare providers and facilities could not ask about whether a patient owns firearms unless the provider believes that this particular information is relevant to patient safety. It also stated that healthcare providers could not put information about patient gun ownership or firearm use in the patient record, and that providers cannot deny service to patients who own guns. 

    The most recent ruling overturned the law, allowing physicians to ask about gun ownership, to advise patients about gun safety and to document information, but the provision that health care professionals cannot refuse care to gun owners was upheld.


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    The Firearms Owners' Privacy Act applied to physicians, as well as other healthcare providers and promised hefty financial and professional penalties for violations.

    The issues

    The American Medical Association (AMA) has praised the recent court ruling, stating that physician discussion of firearms is an important patient safety issue. Several other major medical organizations joined the AMA in urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to uphold a lower court decision that ruled the law unconstitutional.

    Among the issues that have been brought up is the fact that there is a grey area when it comes to deciding if a conversation about guns is relevant to the care and safety of a patient.

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    Heidi Moawad
    Heidi Moawad is a freelance writer for Medical Economics.

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      Physicians should proactively discuss gun ownership with patients, with an emphasis on gun safety, marksmanship, and the concealed-weapon or open-carry laws in your state. Suitably motivated gun-owning patients can be referred to local police departments for training as volunteer auxiliary police. Videos using "real-life" crime scenarios train gun-carriers to make accurate split-second decisions under duress. With more armed and well-trained law-abiding citizens, the harms caused by violent criminals to the public's mortality and morbidity may be reduced.

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