Florida Governor Rick Scott is spending taxpayer money defending a law conceived by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and proposed for ratification by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that would prohibit doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership. Though the law has been blocked by a federal court, it appeared set to follow the path to becoming an ALEC "model bill" paved by the infamous "Stand Your Ground" law, which was initially cited by law enforcement to protect Trayvon Martin's killer in Florida.
Governor Scott signed the "Firearm Owners' Privacy Act" in June of 2011, and a month later, NRA lobbyist Tara Mica presented it as a "model" bill for adoption by the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force.
In July 2012, a federal judge struck down the so-called "Docs vs. Glocks" law as violative of the First Amendment rights of doctors. "What is curious about this law -- and what makes it different from so many other laws involving practitioners' speech -- is that it aims to restrict a practitioner's ability to provide truthful, non-misleading information to a patient," wrote U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke.
The family doctors and pediatricians that challenged the law assert that guns are a public health issue and doctors have a duty to inquire about ownership -- particularly because gunshots account for a third of all deaths from injury among teenagers, and more than one in five deaths from injury among young people aged 1 to 19. Many years of research demonstrate that even responsible gun owners and their families suffer higher risks of shooting injury or death when they keep a firearm in the home.
"The purpose of preventive medicine is to discuss with a patient topics that, while perhaps not relevant to a patient's medical safety at the time, inform the patient about general concerns that may arise in the future," Judge Cooke wrote.
Providing this public health information, she wrote, "simply does not interfere with the right to keep and bear arms."
"Stand Your Ground" Parallels
As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, the "Stand Your Ground" law initially cited to protect Trayvon Martin's killer from prosecution in Florida followed a similar path as the "Firearm Owners Privacy Act."
In 2005, the NRA and its lobbyist Marion Hammer helped draft the "Stand Your Ground" law and first pushed it in Florida. Hammer reportedly "stared down legislators as they voted," and weeks after it passed the Florida legislature, she brought the bill to ALEC, where the legislators and corporate lobbyists on the Criminal Justice Task Force (which became the Public Safety and Elections Task Force) voted unanimously to adopt it as a "model bill." Since becoming an ALEC model it has become law in dozens of other states, and the number of homicides classified as "justifiable" has dramatically increased.
As she did with the Stand Your Ground law, the NRA's Hammer reportedly "played a major role in pushing the [Firearm Owners Privacy Act] through the Legislature." Representative Jason Brodeur (R-33), an ALEC member, and Senator Greg Evers (R-2), who co-sponsored the Stand Your Ground law in 2005, were the main sponsors of the bill. After it passed, the NRA applauded Governor Scott for signing what they called their "priority" bill.
As happened with the Stand Your Ground law, one month later, the NRA's Tara Mica was scheduled to bring the "Firearm Owners Privacy Act" to ALEC's August 2011 conference under the name "Gun Owners' Privacy and Access to Health Care Act." The full text of the proposal was printed in the Public Safety and Elections Task Force agenda sent to its members in advance of the meeting.
However, before ALEC's corporate and legislative members convened, a group of physicians challenged Florida's "Firearm Owners Privacy Act" as a violation of their First Amendment rights. Records indicate that Mica withdrew the bill from consideration by the ALEC task force, either at the meeting or soon before. It is not clear whether she did so because the bill was likely unconstitutional.
Taxpayer Dollars to Defend NRA/ALEC Law
The NRA sought to intervene in the lawsuit and defend the Firearm Owners Privacy Act because it said it had been a "foremost supporter" of the law. When Judge Cooke struck down the law this July, the NRA issued a press release in Hammer's name warning that "now, if you own guns or have guns in your home, a doctor can refuse to treat you or your children," with a citation to a story from the far-right website World Net Daily.
Hammer's release also warned that "[a]s we brace for a federal government takeover of the health care system, fears are escalating that government will have access to medical records that can become the lists of gun owners," and asked people to contact Florida's Governor Scott and ask him to appeal the decision.
Governor Scott is indeed appealing the decision, and using taxpayer dollars to do so. As Mother Jones notes, "a report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel shows that the same tea party governor who trumpets fiscal conservatism has spent north of $880,000 in taxpayer money so far to wage mostly unsuccessful court battles for the conservative agenda -- including Docs vs. Glocks, voter suppression measures, drug tests for welfare recipients, prison privatization plans, and the Supreme Court challenge to Obamacare." Each of those agenda items also have ties to ALEC.