President Barack Obama held a news conference Wednesday morning to announce 23 executive actions he would be taking to address the issue of gun violence. Number 16 of states, “Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.”
Huh? The Affordable Care Act also does not prohibit physicians from asking whether I prefer Fox News or MSNBC, but why on earth would they?
Then I recalled a 2011 law passed by the Florida legislature that did just that — it prohibited medical care professionals from asking their patients about gun ownership. It was referred to as the Privacy of Firearm Owners Act, and its purpose was exactly that — to protect the privacy of patients. Distilled to its essentials, it provided “unless information is relevant to patient’s medical care or safety or safety of others, inquiries regarding firearm ownership or possession should not be made.”
The Act, unfortunately, had a very short lifespan.
Barely three months after its enactment, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke signed a temporary injunction barring the State of Florida from enforcing the law. Ten months after that, according to Jacksonville.com, she made the order permanent.
She ruled the law was so “vague” that it violated the First Amendment rights of doctors, and that the act’s privacy provisions “fail to provide any standards for practitioners to follow.”
And Obama’s statement Wednesday morning made it clear that there was nothing in any federal statute to prohibit caregivers from invading a patient’s privacy.
In recent weeks we learned how private a matter gun ownership is. The New York-based Journal News published the names and addresses of area gun permit owners and started a firestorm that is still raging to this day.
The order, on its face, sounds innocuous enough: “the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.”
But how long before, “the Affordable Care Act requires doctors to ask their patients about guns in their homes?” And then where are we?
Obama’s list of 23 executive orders for gun control