Appeals court today heard arguments on “Firearms Owners’ Privacy Act,” which lower court declared unconstitutional; ACLU filed amicus brief on behalf of medical and child welfare organizations

CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, (786) 363-2737 or
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July, 18th, 2013.

MIAMI - Today, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument in the case of Wollschlaeger v. Florida, a challenge to the “Firearms Owners’ Privacy Act,” a 2011 Florida law which prohibits doctors from asking their patients questions about or discussing safety regarding the presence of guns in a patient’s home. A federal district court had declared the law an unconstitutional violation of freedom of speech, but attorneys for Governor Rick Scott appealed the decision.

Today’s arguments were heard by a three judge panel, whose members expressed varying degrees of skepticism towards Plaintiffs’ First Amendment arguments that the law impermissibly chilled physician’s free speech rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, along with leading medical and child welfare organizations, filed a friend-of-the court brief in the case co-authored by volunteer attorneys Tom Julin and Gerald Greenberg arguing that the law unconstitutionally restricts the free speech rights of medical personnel and hampers the ability to protect the health and safety of their patients.

The following statement on today’s hearing may be attributed to Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida:

“Florida and the country face an epidemic of gun violence - an epidemic that has led to the deaths of too many young people.

“In this context, the Governor’s going to the federal appellate court to defend the Legislature’s unconstitutional effort to gag doctors and prevent them from talking to their patients about measures to protect children from guns in the home is not simply a violation of the freedom of speech of doctors, as the federal district court definitively ruled -- it is just plain dumb.

“As part of their daily work protecting the health and safety of Florida’s families, the healthcare and child welfare organizations that would be impacted by this foolish law have a right and responsibility to ask reasonable questions about firearms when appropriate to offer advice protecting the safety of their patients. The conversations which this law prohibits could save lives.

“This unneeded legislation responding to paranoid ‘they’re coming for the guns’ delusions not only violates the right of free speech, it does nothing to address the real problem of gun violence in our state. If the governor’s attorneys prove successful in their defense of the legislature’s unconstitutional gag on doctors, it could have terrible consequences for the children of Florida.

The ACLU of Florida’s amicus brief, filed with Alachua County Medical Society, Broward County Medical Association, Broward County Pediatric Society, Palm Beach County Medical Society, Florida Public Health Association, University of Miami School of Law Children and Youth Clinic, Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, Inc., and Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, is available here: