Government News
Bill Would Put Silencer on Gun Talk Between Doctors, Patients
Psychiatric News
Volume 46 Number 5 page 16-16

The Florida Psychiatric Society and allied groups are gearing up to fight proposed state legislation that would severely infringe on the doctor-patient relationship and threaten penalties of up to five years in prison and a $5 million fine for clinicians who try to protect their patients and the community by asking about gun possession.

The bill would make it a felony for physicians or other medical personnel to ask a patient or a patient's family about firearms in the home. In addition, a doctor could not make written or electronic record entries concerning firearms in the home or refuse to treat a patient because that individual declined to answer such questions. Further, clinicians would be prohibited from informing any other party about a patient's gun-related issues.

The bill was introduced in both the state House of Representatives and Senate at the suggestion of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Asher Gorelik, M.D., president of the Florida Psychiatric Society, told Psychiatric News, "The feedback I've been seeing from our membership is that there's a great deal of concern about how this law would interfere with the ability of the psychiatrist to properly assess a patient. We need to consider the danger patients might pose to themselves and to the community, including evaluating if the patient has access to weapons."

The Florida Psychiatric Society is in contact both with the Florida Medical Association and psychologists in the state to develop an effective strategy for blocking the bill. Similar legislation was introduced in the Virginia state legislature in 2006. It passed the House of Delegates but died in the state Senate.

Scott Benson, M.D., a Florida child psychiatrist who is the recorder of the APA Assembly, warned, "This bill is not a stunt. The legislature is strongly Republican and is veto-proof. This level of absolute power and the financial power of the NRA in Florida will make it very difficult for sensible legislators to vote against this bill."

Steven Cuffe, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville, told Psychiatric News that "asking about firearms and whether they are safely stored and locked" is important to prevent accidental deaths of children by firearms. Cuffe practices child and adolescent psychiatry.

In addition, Cuffe said, "Removing firearms from the home is the best single way to prevent suicide."

"I can't believe this is actually being seriously considered or that it has any chance to pass the legislature," Cuffe added.

The Florida legislation has gotten a cool reception from newspapers in the state. Fred Grimm, a columnist for the Miami Herald, commented, "A psychiatrist dealing with a troubled, potentially dangerous patient who talks of harming others has a legal obligation to ask about firearms and to alert authorities."

The Northwest Florida Daily News wrote in a January 17 editorial, "As for the legislature, its members ought to shoot down this meddlesome measure at the earliest opportunity."

The bill is posted and can be tracked at <www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2011/432>.16_3.inline-graphic-1.gif

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