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Florida Bill Could Muzzle Doctors On Gun Safety

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Florida Bill Could Muzzle Doctors On Gun Safety

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Florida Bill Could Muzzle Doctors On Gun Safety

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Floridas on the verge of becoming the first state in the nation to prohibit doctors from asking their patients if they own guns. A bill enacting the ban has passed the state legislature, and the governor is expected to sign it. The measure is aimed especially at pediatricians, who routinely ask new parents if they have guns at home, and if they are stored safely. Pediatricians say its all about preventing accident injuries. Some gun-rights advocates charge that doctors have a political agenda.

NPRs Greg Allen reports from Miami.

(Soundbite of children talking)

GREG ALLEN: At Tallahassee Pediatrics, not far from Floridas Capitol building, its a typical weekday afternoon. Parents have brought some kids in with minor ailments. Others are here for regular checkups. As parents know, pediatricians ask a lot of questions. Dr. Louis St. Petery says its all part of what doctors call anticipatory guidance - teaching parents how to safeguard against accidental injuries. Pediatricians ask about bike helmets, seat belts and other concerns.

Dr. LOUIS ST. PETERY (Pediatrician, Tallahassee Pediatrics): So, if you have a pool, lets talk about pool safety so we dont have unnecessary drownings. And if you have firearms, lets talk about gun safety so that theyre stored properly. You know, the gun needs to be locked up, the ammunition stored separate from the gun, etc., so that children dont have access to them.

ALLEN: For decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics has encouraged its members to ask questions about guns, and how theyre stored, as part of well-child visits.

But Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Associations lobbyist in Tallahassee, says thats not a pediatricians job.

Ms. MARION HAMMER (Lobbyist, National Rifle Association): We take our children to pediatricians for medical care - not moral judgment, not privacy intrusions.

ALLEN: NRA lobbyists helped write a bill that largely bans health professionals from asking about guns. Hammer says she and other NRA members consider the questions an intrusion on their Second Amendment rights.

Ms. HAMMER: This bill is about helping families who are complaining about being questioned about gun ownership, and the growing anti-gun political agenda being carried out in examination rooms by doctors and staffs.

ALLEN: Its not just questions in the examining room that leads the NRA to charge pediatricians with a political agenda. Out of concern for the high number of firearms injuries among children and adolescents, the American Academy of Pediatrics is also on record supporting gun control.

In a compromise with another doctors' group, the Florida Medical Association, the NRA agreed to one exception to the ban. Doctors would be permitted to ask questions about guns in cases where they feel its directly relevant to the patients care or the safety of others.

Dr. Paul Robinson, a specialist in adolescent medicine, told a Florida Senate committee recently that would allow doctors to counsel suicidal teens. But there are other cases, he said, where the law - and the doctors options - are less clear.

Dr. PAUL ROBINSON: What if I have an adolescent whos been bullied, whos not suicidal? I dont think under the current bill, Im allowed to ask him if theres a gun in the home, or if hes carried a gun to school, or if hes thinking of harming someone else with a gun.

ALLEN: Few of those who voted in favor of the bill spoke out, either in committee or on the floor. One who did was Senator Alan Hays, a retired dentist from Central Florida.

Senator ALAN HAYS (Republican, Florida): Its none of my business what kind of weapons, if any weapons, you have in your home. When you come to see me, or you bring one of your children to see me, my obligation is to find out what medical things are pertinent to your particular situation.

ALLEN: Ultimately, both Floridas Senate and House agreed with the NRA, and voted to approve the bill. For supporters of gun rights, its another victory -one that Dr. Louis St. Petery says will negatively affect pediatricians and their patients.

Dr. PETERY: Many pediatricians will think twice about asking about firearms and discussing firearms safety. What I think is going to happen is therell be more children injured and killed with firearms in the home that are not properly stored.

ALLEN: Although Floridas legislature is the first to approve the measure, its also being considered in other states, including North Carolina and Alabama. Its now on the desk of Florida Governor Rick Scott, whos expected to sign it.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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