NEW YORK (Reuters) - A group of Florida physicians filed a federal lawsuit on Monday seeking to overturn a new state law that limits doctors' ability to ask patients about guns in the home.

The lawsuit, filed in Miami federal court, says the new law is an unconstitutional ban on physicians' free speech and prevents them from counseling patients on firearm safety.

The statute, titled "Privacy of Firearm Owners" and signed into law by Florida's governor last week, prohibits healthcare professionals from asking patients about gun ownership unless the information is relevant to the patient's medical care, safety or the safety of others. The law also bars practitioners from entering the information into a patient's medical record.

"By severely restricting such speech and the ability of physicians to practice such preventative medicine, the Florida statute could result in grievous harm to children, adolescents, adults and the elderly," the lawsuit said.

Lane Wright, press secretary for Florida Governor Rick Scott, said the law defends patients' right to bear arms and protects gun owners from potential discrimination and harassment. The law does not prevent doctors from having medically relevant conversations about guns with their patients, he said.

But the plaintiffs -- three individual doctors and the Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians -- alleged the law is "so vague, overbroad, and ambiguous" and the penalties so harsh that doctors will steer clear of any discussion of gun safety with their patients.

Physicians who violate the law risk losing their medical licenses and face fines up to $10,000 per offense, according to the complaint.

The suit, filed by lawyers with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and law firms including Ropes & Gray, named Governor Rick Scott and four other state health officials as defendants and requested an injunction blocking the state from enforcing the law.

(Reporting by Terry Baynes; Editing by Jerry Norton)




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