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Fla.'s 'Docs v. Glocks' Law Upheld by Federal Appeals Court

By Brett Snider, Esq. on July 29, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal appellate court has upheld Florida's controversial "Docs v. Glocks" law, barring doctors from asking patients about gun ownership.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a prior decision by a Florida federal district court, declaring the law to be a "legitimate regulation" of doctors' professional conduct in the state, reports Reuters. Critics worry that this law chills physicians' free speech rights with regard to firearms, placing their licenses on the line if they broach the subject of guns.

It appears "Glocks" won over "Docs," but why did the appeals court side with gun owners?

Legitimate Regulation of Doctors

In coming to its decision in Wollschlaeger v. Scott (sorry, the case isn't really titled "Docs v. Glocks"), the 11th Circuit determined that the Florida law in question was a fair exercise of the state's power to "police the boundaries of good medical practice." The law states that physicians should refrain from asking questions about gun ownership or recording such information in patient records unless it is in good faith believed to be relevant to medical care or safety.

Corresponding statutes impose disciplinary action and fines on physicians who violate this statute, including the potential for a doctor to lose his or her license to practice in the Sunshine State. The 11th Circuit expounds that the law acts to protect patients from physicians probing into information unnecessary for medical care and to balance the doctor-patient relationship.

Since states like Florida have long been held to have power to regulate health and medical professionals, the court sees this law as no different than the other state standards for Florida's doctors.

Effect on Speech Is Incidental

In one sense, many regulations on physicians would have an effect on their ability to speak with patients. Doctors may not, for example, prescribe or provide drugs to patients which have not been approved by the FDA, despite personal beliefs in the drugs' efficacy or safety.

According to the 11th Circuit, a regulation of physicians can be legitimate as long as the free speech abridgment is "merely the incidental effect of observing an otherwise legitimate regulation." Similarly, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a California law barring state mental health professionals from engaging in therapy to "change" a minor's sexual orientation because its effect on speech was only incidental. That may be a poor example, since the 9th Circuit held that the bill regulated conduct and not speech.

But for now, it appears Florida docs may need to zip their lips about Glocks -- at least to patients.

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