Boundary Violation: Gun Politics in the Doctor’s Office in 2016

Doctors and Guns
Boundary Violation: Gun Politics in the Doctor’s Office in 2016
Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership
Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership

USA –  -(  Well before Florida’s Amber Ullman incident in the summer of 2010, gun control activist doctors had been poking and prodding a sore spot.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in particular had declared a culture war on gun owners and advanced the battle into exam rooms across America.  They were questioning their patients and their parents about guns in their homes.  Patients were outraged, the people of Florida responded through their legislature, and the parties squared off in a continuing court case, Wollschlaeger v. Governor of Florida.

In response to the Ullman episode and others like it, Florida’s legislature passed the Firearm Owners Privacy Act (FOPA) in 2011.  The Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Practice, and the American College of Physicians were among a group of plaintiffs who sued to stop enforcement of the law, and FOPA has been in litigation ever since.

Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership has long opposed the gun prohibition agendas of these three national medical organizations. Most offensive have been their policies of encouraging doctors to probe their patients about guns in their homes and even urge their patients to get rid of their guns.

A 1999 DRGO resource paper, Boundary Violation: Gun Politics in the Doctor’s Office, has long been the definitive description of this practice and its ethical implications.

Now this original work has been updated and enlarged as an amicus curiae brief for the Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. The brief, authored by Colorado attorney Joseph Greenlee, was submitted last week to the 11th Circuit Court in support of FOPA in the case Wollschlaeger v Governor of Florida.  Greenlee skillfully articulates principles never before brought forth yet in the ongoing litigation of Wollschlaeger.

When the proper method (the Gentile balancing test) of judging the constitutionality of professional speech regulation such as FOPA, Florida’s interest in enforcing FOPA decidedly outweighs any First Amendment right of physicians.

This is a recognition that when a doctor is talking professionally to her patient, it’s not the same as a casual conversation or a public expression of opinion.  It’s a special kind of speech whose purpose is only to help the patient.

Since doctors have a special duty to their patients, they are held to a higher standard of conduct. So what they may say at a cocktail party or other public forum may not be allowed in the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship.  That is why, contrary to the bitter complaints of some anti-gun rights physicians that they have been “gagged” by FOPA, the state is allowed to limit doctors’ speech when it would hurt their patients instead of help them.

Mr. Greenlee also reminds us (and the court) that:

The Act [FOPA] does not prevent physicians from speaking with patients about firearms. Physicians can give patients any advice or information regarding firearms they desire. In fact, physicians can treat and advise every patient as if they were firearm owners, or potential firearm owners. Further, if a physician in good faith believes that a patient’s firearm ownership is relevant, the physician may inquire about it. If a patient wants to talk about firearm ownership, the physician may freely engage in that discussion.

With simple but brilliant logic the brief concludes this critical point:

Thus, a physician is restricted only from inquiring or keeping records about firearm ownership when the physician believes the information is irrelevant to the patient’s care…Surely a physician does not have a compelling interest in asking about or recording private information that is unrelated to the patient’s care—a less compelling interest is difficult to imagine.

Florida is justified in stopping doctors from advancing a political agenda of gun control.
Florida is justified in stopping doctors from advancing a political agenda of gun control.

The next step in showing that the state of Florida is justified in stopping doctors from advancing a political agenda of gun control is proving that all the states have a “compelling interest” in how professions are practiced.  This long-established principle assures patient protection from incompetent or unscrupulous physicians.  Greenlee lays out the history of high court decisions supporting this norm and shows how regulating professional conduct must include regulating professional speech.

Section III, Part B will be familiar to readers of this website.  It documents the sordid history of gun control activism in organized medicine. It includes discussion of the anti-gun policies and practices of major medical organizations, three of whose Florida chapters are suing to stop enforcement of FOPA.

We have documented many times the gun control advocacy of the American Academy of Pediatrics, but this brief also provides details on the wish of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) to ban most guns that are popular in the 21st century:

The AAFP has official policy stating, “The Academy opposes private ownership of weapons designed primarily to fire multiple (greater than 10) rounds quickly.” AAFP, Firearms and Safety Issues, (last visited Mar. 20, 2016). This deliberate policy includes most pistols designed in the last quarter century and virtually all rifles designed and produced after the Korean War.

Finally, Greenlee addresses what is perhaps the most important issue of the brief, which is the unequal relationship of the doctor to the patient:

Another reason states have a compelling interest in regulating physician speech is the dramatic imbalance of power inherent to the relationship between a highly trained physician and a relatively uninformed and impuissant [i.e. powerless] layperson.

Cultural expectations, the responsibility and specialized knowledge of the doctor, and the compromised attitude of a sometimes frightened and sick patient all combine to make the doctor-patient relationship unbalanced.  Both culture and law recognize this fact and provide protection for the patient by holding the physician to a higher standard of conduct.  That standard is violated when a doctor abuses her position of relative power to push a political agenda of gun control on her patient.

The meticulous documentation of the ethical issues involved, the medical establishment’s anti-gun rights agenda (that establishment including the plaintiffs themselves), and the supporting legal citations are joined together in a formal statement that is now the go-to reference.  This brief adds to and enlarges on our 1999 article with the perspective of legal authority.  It now becomes part of DRGO’s permanent file of resources available to all of our readers.

Timothy Wheeler
Timothy Wheeler

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit will hear the latest arguments in the case of Wollschlaeger v. Governor of Florida on June 21 2016.  The SAF-CCRKBA amicus brief will show them a side of the case that is vital to understanding why Florida’s Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act should be upheld.



—Timothy Wheeler, MD is director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.

Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.

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“Author: Witold Pilecki”



Michael I understand and appreciate your response. I an normally and generally not aggressive. In fact I prefer to be left alone. Yet when it comes to the VA, I am the fellow that people talk about concerning VA screw ups. I have been misdiagnosed dozens of times and actually called a malingerer. That was until an outside the VA neurologist from the Medical University of South Carolina properly diagnosed a BROKEN NECK that I has been living with for 27 years and a year later diagnoses a BROKEN BACK that I had been living with for 19 years, Both… Read more »


When a VA doctor asked a similar question I answered. How is it any of your effing business whether or not I own a weapon? She was a neurologist committing medical malpractice via misdiagnoses. Typical of the VA whom excels in the arena of medical misdiagnoses.

The VA giving Veterans a second chance to die for their country since 1930.


Thank you for your service (and I really do mean that). Coming from a military family (and serving in the Marine Corps myself) I too have been exposed to the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of the VA system. However, because of recent legislation and the potential for your medical records to reflect negatively on you simply because of a perceived and documented “abnormally aggressive” response or “anti-social” behavior or other vague psychobabble, keeping your cool and responding in a calm and polite manner without appearing to be troubled by (shall we say, “pissed off by”) the questions would be the smart… Read more »


Again – don’t let your emotions get the best of you when whomever tries to get into your personal information. Stay cool and calm – act nonplused and lie if you are pushed. Never ever indicate that you have firearms (or that you have any expertise in those areas). Don’t run the risk of some MD-type jotting some psychobabble in your medical chart that will remain there in cyberspace forever. We are smarter than they are – we will win in the end. Idaho is now a “Constitutional Carry” state (#9 and counting). More and more states will follow and… Read more »


Oldshooter, by responding as you did, and supplying SO MUCH information, she now knows for certain that you have guns in your home and use them. She tricked YOU into answering her question. A better response is to simply say “I only discuss certain issues with professionals qualified to advise on those issues”. Then quietly close yer piehole. Next question, please. All the medical paperwork I’ve had to fill out has been pages of forms (did your mother’s great aunt have diabetes?) Unless I an CONVINCED the question has relevance to the reason I am sitting there marking up forms… Read more »


I just asked to see the doc’s qualifications to discuss gun safety, when she started in with me about the “danger” of keeping guns in my home. She never even got to the point of asking whether I had one or more at home. I told her that I noticed she had a couple of medical diplomas and licenses on her wall, but that I must have missed the certifications in firearms instruction, and wondered why they weren’t on her wall with the others. She said it was an issue everyone should know about, and I agreed. Then I asked… Read more »


If asked your reply should be “NOYFB” which means None Of Your F——- Business. If they don’t like it change doctors. Another thing you can do is ask the doctor if they still beat their spouse when drunk or sober. See how they like that $hit. FIND A NEW DOCTOR.


Unfortunately, being antagonistic to your doctor could follow you in a negative entry in your medical record. We all need to be calm, be smart, and beat our “govern”ment at its own game.


I always attempt to remain cool and calm whenever someone attempts to “invade” my personal information space. Those type of individuals are either ill-mannered and just nosey, or in the case of doctors and nurses, sometimes required to ask invasive personal, non-medical oriented questions as a result of their medical organization’s latest protocol for patient information collection (whether due to insurance or “govern”mental regulations). Regardless, being less than polite when dealing with doctors or nurses make prompt a “note” on your medical file that during the office visit the patient displayed “aggressive behavior, was moody and uncooperative, and so on.… Read more »


what happened to Dr. patient confidence. or is that only used when the Dr. doesnt want to answer a question.

Witold Pilecki

For the past two annual physicals at my doctors office, I have been asked these intrusive questions, and refused to answer. Each time I was prepared to give a detailed explanation as to why I refused and how inappropriate and non-vital to my medical care the questions are, but received no push back from the staff. They just kind of shrug their shoulders and say, “OK.” I can’t imagine that will go on too much longer before they tell me they won’t see me anymore. I despise and distrust government at all levels. The only way I would answer such… Read more »

Pistol Pete

It is none of any doctor business what i have in my house on my person.
If they ask they are told real quick in a nice way that it is none of their or Obama’s business!!


Hand this lot to your comedians in the USA…. “US Gun control cartoon”×511%3E/format/png/quality/85/?url=%2Fcmsmedia%2Fea%2Ff4%2Fd58913e041729746855efed7e3f5%2F20150727edhan-a.tif Australian news article 2016 – “Neighbours hear gunshots before man dies in Kingswood driveway” Another Australian news article 2016 – Another Australian news article 2016 (this guy meant to kill two other people) – Another Australian news article 2016 – Another Australian news article 2016 – This next is about psychos in Australia that had a gun but did not use it The journalist is 2011 and agrees with committing it. Half what he killed preyed on were his own… Read more »

Grumpy Old Timer

While the whores argue about how they will/will not enforce their will on me, I simply refuse to have any discussion with anyone about what guns I own or have in my home. Same for how I “Feel”. I watched two local vets have their guns confiscated after they went for PTSD treatment at the VA. I NEVER, EVER talk to a Dr. about anything other than the specific physical ailment I went in for. And, I do NOT answer any of the Medicare questions associated with the annual physical. The info goes straight into big brothers hands and he… Read more »

Dr smith

I think your tinfoil hat may be a little too tight

Witold Pilecki

You may or may not be an actual “doctor”, but I think you are either naive or an idiot that doesn’t see or get what is happening right in front of us. Of course, you could also be a collaborator that thinks this intrusion is all just great, in which case you can hang with the rest of the traitors for “following orders.”

Doctors may be compelled by their government overlords to ask these intrusive questions, but we free people don’t have such a compulsion to answer, contrary to the belief of the traitors.