State Politics

Opponents spar over possible hospital gun ban

In Florida, it’s against the law to carry a gun into a school, an athletic event, a jail, a police station or a local government meeting. Not so with hospitals, where it remains perfectly legal to pack heat.

For years, Linda Quick of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association has wanted to change that. Just before each session of the Legislature, when her group publishes its agenda, it includes a talking point: “Add ‘licensed hospitals and nursing homes’ to the Safety Zone provisions of the Concealed Weapons Law.”

The agenda item is once again on the association’s list as the 2012 legislative session gets under way. “It’s just common sense,” says Quick. “You don’t want guns in schools. Why on earth would you want them in hospitals?”

Fat chance, says Marion Hammer, the Tallahassee lobbyist for the National Rifle Association who has fought successfully for years against adding hospitals to the list. “NRA would oppose a bill that panders to the anti-gun political agenda of South Florida organizations,’’ she wrote in an email to The Miami Herald.

Hammer and Quick say they know of no bill on the subject filed for this legislative session. In recent sessions, the Legislature’s trend has been decidedly pro-gun. Last year, all the talk about guns and healthcare involved an NRA-backed bill that said doctors should refrain from asking patients whether they had firearms unless the doctors had a compelling reason.

The Legislature passed the bill. Gov. Rick Scott signed it. Family physicians and pediatricians led the legal charge against it -- maintaining they had a constitutional right to ask and a need to know whether children were in a safe household that either had no guns or the guns were safely locked away. A federal judge has blocked enforcement of the law until she can determine whether it violates doctors’ free speech rights.

Several years ago, when a no-gun-in-hospitals bill received a hearing, some doctors in North Florida objected: They wanted to be armed in hospitals for their own safety. “Doctors, nurses and medical personnel ... are licensed to carry and ... should not have their constitutional rights denied because they have chosen to work in the field of medicine,” says Hammer. “For almost 25 years, license holders have been able to carry firearms in hospitals and there have essentially been no problems.”

Quick acknowledges that shootings in hospitals are not frequent, but they do occur, such as a murder-suicide in Weston at the Cleveland Clinic Hospital in 2007 and a pregnant pharmacy manager shot and killed at the Shands Jacksonville Hospital in 2006.

Hospitals could put up signs saying guns are not permitted on the premises, but Quick says a person with a state-issued concealed weapons permit could enter with a gun and not be arrested.

Hammer says no law is needed because carrying a concealed weapon without a permit is already a felony. “Persons who have been licensed by the state to carry concealed weapon are not now nor have they ever been a problem.”

Quick says many leaders of her hospital association support gun rights and some own guns themselves. “My membership is as diverse as the rest of the population. The only question we’re asking is if they belong in hospitals.”

Even with the law, an angry person might burst into a hospital with guns blazing. But a law could at least serve as a deterrent, she says. “We really consider it a glitch bill” -- fixing a minor error in a law.