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Brady Center Sues Florida Over 'Gag' on Doctors Asking About Firearms

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott is shown at a ceremony at a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., police station June 3.AP

A top gun control group has filed suit against a recently passed Florida law restricting doctors from asking patients about whether they own firearms, claiming the policy tramples on First Amendment rights. 

The first-in-the-nation law, signed last week by Gov. Rick Scott, would prohibit doctors from recording information about whether a patient owns a gun. It also restricts them from asking about whether patients own a gun unless that information is relevant to their medical care. 

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, along with another law firm and groups representing doctors, filed suit Monday asking a U.S. District Court judge in Florida to strike down the law. 

The suit, which disparagingly refers to the policy as the "physician gag law," complained that it was too vague and too strict and could lead doctors to "self-censor" -- to the detriment of their patients. 

"By severely restricting such speech and the ability of physicians to practice such preventative medicine, the Florida statute could result in grievous harm to children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly," the suit said. 

But Scott's office defended the law, noting that it only bars doctors from inquiring about firearms if that information is not relevant to a patients' care or the safety of others. 

"The law ensures respect for a patient's right to own or possess a firearm and protects them from potential discrimination and harassment in cases where it is not relevant to the patient's medical care or safety, or the safety of anyone else in the home," spokesman Lane Wright said in an email. 

Backers of the law, including author Rep. Jason Brodeur, claimed they were trying to prevent doctors from invading personal privacy. The law was spawned after a Florida pediatrician told a mother to seek another doctor after she refused to answer questions about firearms in her home. 

Sponsors also expressed concern that medical records reflecting information about firearms could be shared with insurance companies, potentially leading to higher rates. Indeed, the law includes a provision barring insurance companies from raising premiums or denying coverage based on whether an applicant owns a gun. 

But the American Academy of Pediatrics, a party to the suit, claimed the law would do harm because pediatricians should be able to provide "anticipatory guidance" to prevent injury to children. 

The Brady Center said doctors should be urging parents to keep firearms under lock and key, and away from kids. 

"This gun lobby-backed gag law is a clear violation of the First Amendment rights of doctors and patients to discuss the severe risks posed by guns in the home, particularly to children," Brady Center President Paul Helmke said in a statement.