Will Florida lawmakers act following a horrific weekend of gun violence? It’s not certain

Gun control advocates rally at the Capitol. Mitch Perry photo

While the nation reels from gun violence that erupted in El Paso and Dayton this weekend, advocates hope Florida will make more changes in the state’s gun laws, though the Legislature’s track record on gun control isn’t strong, with a few exceptions.

Florida’s Democratic Caucus last legislative session offered numerous bills to tackle issues related to gun control and mental health “and none received a hearing,” Orange County Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani said in a statement issued Sunday.

However, “We plan to refile bills and continue in our efforts of holding colleagues accountable, pushing back against groups like the NRA, and calling out white supremacy when we see it,” Eskamani said.

Senate President Galvano issued a statement on Monday saying that he may be open to changes, saying, “the evil acts of violence over the weekend are an all-to-present reminder that we have more work to do.”

But those changes, at least right now, gave no specifics about gun control measures, such as banning assault weapons.

Instead, Galvano veered toward a focus “on steps the Senate can take to review and better understand the various factors involved in mass shootings, in addition to, and also including, school shootings,” he said. “This includes white nationalism, which appears to be a factor not only with regard to these recent mass shootings, but also with other acts of violence we have seen across the country in recent years.”

Galvano says he will ask Hillsborough County Republican Sen. Tom Lee to lead that review which will “help determine what further actions can be taken at the state level that will build on the legislation we passed in 2018 and 2019.” Galvano also says the Legislature will monitor what, if any, actions the federal government does regarding gun safety.

Galvano tweeted earlier on Monday that “no function of government is more important that the safety of the power we serve.”

“The @FLSenate will work even harder to ensure that safety,” he added. “Thoughts and prayers must yield action.”

That prompted positive reaction from several members of Moms Demand Action. Nancy Fry, a volunteer leader with the organization, responded on Twitter to Galvano’s statement.

“So, let’s see you vote on legislation to fix background checks, get rid of preemption so local govts can protect their constituents, and make the police enforce firearm surrender for abusers (a common indication for mass shootings).” (Preemption means the state can take away power form local government.)

The gun used to kill nine people in less than one minute in the Dayton, Ohio shooting rampage was an AR-15 style rifle and 100-round drum magazine that was “obtained legally,” authorities said Sunday. The assailant in El Paso, Texas who killed 21 people was armed with an AK-47-style rifle and extra magazines.

Whether the GOP-controlled Legislature is in the mood for any substantive changes on guns is uncertain.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Sunday that “Florida stands committed to do all that is necessary to support law enforcement efforts for the safety and security of our residents and visitors. May we pray for those who grieve and remember always that we are resilient nation.”

There was no mention of gun control issues in the governor’s statement.

Likewise, state House Speaker Jose Oliva didn’t address gun control issues in a statement issued today following the weekend of gun violence. Oliva focused on the reports that the El Paso shooter was a white nationalist who came to the Texas border town to “shoot Hispanics,” in the words of the El Paso Sheriff.

Oliva’s statement said:

“Racism, including white nationalism, is a vile, disgusting, un-American ideology. We cannot lose sight, however, that those who subscribe to those beliefs are few and their ideas so rejected that their words and actions unify all Americans – left and right, black, white or brown – in abhorrence and condemnation. I’ve lived my life, as an Hispanic American, and seen a thousand times more generosity, kindness, inclusiveness, and love throughout this great country than I’ve seen discrimination and hatred. What we know is; evil exists, all of us play part in either expanding hatred or loving our neighbor, and despite what we see on the news, America is a great place, filled with kind people, always willing to help a neighbor in need. We must ask ourselves more than ‘what to do’ we must figure out, as leaders and as a society, ‘who we are.’”

Republican state Sen. Rob Bradley from Fleming Island also weighed in Monday on the reports of a white nationalist in the El Paso shooting.

“The ideology of white supremacy is evil,” Bradley tweeted. “It is the antithesis of what our country stands for and it offends God. It must be confronted aggressively so that it cannot metastasize further.

While the Florida Legislature’s track record on gun control isn’t very strong, Senate President Galvano was instrumental in getting the first major gun safety legislation passed in a generation in Florida last year, following the shooting massacre at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland on Valentine’s Day in 2018.

That legislation included raising the age to purchase a firearm in Florida from 18 to 21, which prompted the National Rifle Association to sue the state.

The legislation also created a three-day wait period for gun purchases, directed $400 million towards mental health services and school safety, and created an opt-in “guardian program” that let school personnel who had completed a training program to carry firearms on school grounds.

But attempts for more gun control measures earlier this year went by the wayside.

Sarasota Democratic Rep. Margaret Good’s proposed legislation in the 2019 session would have required anyone transferring a gun to go through a licensed firearms dealer, eliminating a major loophole in Florida law that allows people to bypass background checks by doing business online or through private gun sales.

The legislation was strongly supported by the gun safety group Moms Demand Action, but it never received a hearing.

Similar gun-safety related bills also were met with indifference, though the Legislature did approve a controversial bill that would allow school districts to arm classroom teachers.

Florida Democrats also proposed a measure in the spring legislative session, sponsored by Orlando Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith in the House and Orlando Sen. Linda Stewart in the Senate that would have banned assault weapons. But that never passed. Now a private group called Assault Ban Weapons Now! (BAWN) is attempting to gather the signatures necessary to get the proposal on the 2020 ballot as a constitutional amendment.

The proposal is being opposed by Attorney General Ashley Moody, who has said the measure goes too far in outlawing the possession of all semi-automatic long guns.

A 1987 law forbids local governments in Florida from proposing gun control reforms. However, a Leon County Judge last month ruled that a 2011 law that made local elected officials financially vulnerable to being sued for enacting such reforms was unconstitutional. Moody and DeSantis are appealing that ruling.

Following the gun violence this weekend, President Trump is postponing his previously scheduled appearance to talk about Medicare on Tuesday in the Villages in central Florida. The White House has not rescheduled a makeup date yet.

 

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