A Florida legal battle over the First and Second Amendments could influence Georgia lawmakers.
A federal appeals court in Atlanta heard arguments Tuesday in a case challenging a Florida law that prevents doctors from discussing or recording information about their patients’ gun ownership.
If the law is upheld, the protections could influence firearms debates in Georgia.
The legal battle began with an NRA-backed law meant to stop physicians from harassing patients about the potential dangers of firearms. Medical associations pushed back immediately.
“There’s a couple of different constitutional rights that are sort of all bouncing around in the same case,” said Sonja West, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Georgia.
“There’s a Second Amendment right, which patients claim about their right to gun ownership without facing intrusive questions or possibly having their ownership be recorded in some kind of document that could potentially make its way out of the doctor’s office.” West said.
Those concerns are being pitted against the rights of medical professionals to speak to their patients. A three-judge panel in the 11th U.S. Circuit previously decided to uphold the law.
West said it’s not clear what that will mean in terms of a full court’s ruling. But if they do uphold the Florida law, “that would be telling us that these Second Amendment rights and a privacy interest in your status as a gun owner have a lot of weight,” said West.
“Nothing about this case is about anyone taking a gun away from anyone,” said West. “So the Second Amendment issues here would be about feeling pressure from a physician not to have a gun, or feeling bad in some way — that not having those kinds reactions to gun ownership is something that’s also embodied in the Second Amendment.”
Georgia state Rep. Rick Jasperse introduced “campus carry” legislation, which would have allowed licensed gun owners over the age of 21 to carry concealed guns on public college campuses. The bill was vetoed early this year. He said he’s ignored questions about his gun ownership from his own doctors.
“I think it’s just on a list of ‘do you have bronchitis or blah blah blah,’ and then there’s a line about ‘do you have guns in your home?’ I just didn’t answer it,” said Jasperse.
The American Medical Association encourages this line of questioning, which also includes preventive care questions about sexual behavior, alcohol and drug use and domestic violence.
“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,” read a recent statement from the AMA about the Florida case.
Jasperse, who’s also on the Georgia House’s Health committee, says firearms shouldn’t be singled out over other potential hazards in people’s lives.
And more importantly, he says no one, not even doctors, should have a record of who owns firearms.
“You know, if I have 600 patients, and I’ve got them all under electronic file, I can search all of them for any line in that sale. We don’t want a record created so they can be used for a future purpose,” said Jasperse.
“Yeah it sounds like we’re scared of the government. Well, it’s just one of those things the government doesn’t have any business knowing,” he said.
Jasperse said for now, he’s not overly concerned about these issues in Georgia, but he’s interested in how the justices will rule.