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AMA leaders denounce Florida gun gag law and physician advocates double down on stance

AMA President Andrew Gurman said 2011 law "inserts the state into the patient-physician relationship and threatens open communication in exam room."

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Police respond to the mass shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida (Orlando Police Department photo)Police respond to the mass shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida (Orlando Police Department photo)

Leaders from the American Medical Association blasted lawmakers on Tuesday over the continued enforcement of Florida's Privacy of Firearm Owners Act, which they say puts prohibitive restrictions on physicians who wish to discuss gun safety with their patients.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta heard arguments Tuesday from the AMA and other medical groups concerned about the legislation.

AMA President Andrew Gurman, MD, issued a statement on Tuesday saying that the 2011 law "inserts the state into the patient-physician relationship and threatens open communication in the exam room." He said the AMA is challenging the state's gun gag law by claiming it's an unconstitutional attack on the patient-physician relationship, and the free speech necessary for the practice of medicine.

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[Also: Guns a 'public health crisis,' AMA says, asks Congress to end ban on research]

"With 30,000 men, women and children dying each year from gun violence, our country is facing a public health crisis that demands an active role from America's physicians," said Gurman.

Former AMA President Steven Stack, MD, echoed that sentiment in a statement made last week, when he said that patient-physician counseling on gun safety "is especially important for families with young children because it can prevent accidental gun-related injuries and deaths. It seems like every time you see the news, another child is accidentally shot or accidentally shoots someone else because of unsafe gun storage practices."

The AMA has taken an aggressive stance on gun violence in the wake of the June 11 shootings that claimed the lives of dozens at a nightclub in Orlando, which, in terms of deaths, constituted the worst mass shooting in American history.

In the days following that incident, the AMA, at the annual meeting of its house of delegates, adopted a policy calling gun violence "a public health crisis," requiring a comprehensive public health response and solution. The group also resolved to actively lobby Congress to overturn legislation that for 20 years has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from researching gun violence.

[Also: American Medical Association votes to support waiting periods and background checks for gun buys]

"Behind the closed doors of an exam room, physicians routinely ask patients personal questions to facilitate preventive care -- questions about their sexual behavior, alcohol and drug use, domestic violence, and other sensitive issues," said Gurman. "Our role in preventing gun violence includes asking patients: Do you have guns at home? Are they kept locked separately from ammunition? Are they accessible to anyone else, especially children and individuals with mental health issues? These three questions can prompt a reasonable discussion, supported by evidence-based medicine and professional guidelines, which can help patients safeguard themselves and their families. Patients who receive physician counseling on firearm safety are more likely to adopt one or more safe gun-storage practices."

Supporters of the Privacy of Firearm Owners Act include Florida Governor Rick Scott and the National Rifle Association, who claimed that counseling patients about the safe use of firearms, especially with respect to children, would interfere with the individual's right to possess firearms, according to published reports. Lawyers working for Attorney General Pam Bondi, who is defending the state's position, claim in their brief that physicians groups do not have legal standing to challenge the law.

AMA policy supports legislation calling for a waiting period before purchasing any form of firearm in the United States and supports requiring background checks for all handgun purchasers.

The physician group's policy also supports stricter enforcement of present federal and state gun safety legislation, and the imposition of mandated penalties for crimes committed with the use of a firearm, including the illegal possession of a firearm.

The AMA has numerous, long-standing policies that support increasing the safety of firearms and their use, and reducing and preventing firearm violence.

"For doctors to do all they can to prevent the public health crisis of gun violence from continuing in Florida, the state should drop its defense of a law that stifles relevant medical discussions that are proven to save lives," said Gurman.

Twitter: @JELagasse

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