In Florida’s Capitol, Kate Kile from the Tallahassee chapter of the gun-control group Moms Demand Action, sat outside a committee room with a three-ring binder in her arms.
The notebook was filled with 870 personal letters from volunteer members of the group from around the state, calling on Republican State Sen. Tom Lee from Hillsborough County – considered a moderate in the Florida Senate – to support legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales.
Lee is head of a Senate committee looking at the issue of mass attacks and targeted violence, and Kile presented the letters to him prior to the meeting.
The discussion included data and opinions offered by criminologists, law enforcement officials and mental health professionals, on the first day of interim meetings leading up to the 2020 legislative session in January.
But missing were experts in gun laws around the country that could provide data to make states safer from mass shootings, from the Florida killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Pulse Nightclub, to El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.
“It’s hard to find people that aren’t associated with one group or the other, and we figured we’d have legislation in front of us at one point and those groups will all come out of the woodwork and present as part of this,” Lee told reporters after presiding over the three-hour workshop.
“It’s hard to find someone who isn’t a part of the Bloomberg (funded gun-control) group or the NRA, or one of these organizations to come and present, so this is the best we can put together.”
Lee did say if there was a gun-control measure that he thinks might be helpful, it would be to enhance the state’s background checks law, which has enormous popular support in Florida and the country. State law does require a background check when buying a gun at a gun dealer, but not through private sales or at gun shows. At the same time, Lee said he wasn’t prepared to hear such testimony this early in the pre-session committee hearings that started this week.
However, Senate President Bill Galvano has indicated that he could be open to legislation – it was Galvano, another relative moderate in the Legislature’s upper chamber, who tasked Lee to research the rash of mass shootings last month.
Republican Senator Dave Simmons, who represents Seminole and part of Volusia county, says he’ll introduce a bill before the session starts next year that would ban assault weapons for those 25 years and younger. He has not officially filed that bill yet.
And though depicted as being controlled by the NRA, the Republican-led Florida Legislature did pass a package of gun-control measures in the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland about 18 months ago, which included raising the age to purchase a gun to 21 and requiring a three-day waiting period between the purchase and delivery of any handgun.
So, advocates aren’t giving up on the Republican-led Legislature, which could potentially produce measures on gun-control in the 2020 session.
Kile, of Moms Demand Action, said she remains a “hopeful person,” as voices grow louder for gun safety measures.
“This is something that we can’t ignore as a society and hope that it will go away and blame societal problems on these things,” she said.
“Other countries have these problems – mental health problems, video game consumption, violent movies, etc. We’re looking for effective policies that work and we can look to other states in this country to see what will reduce the number.”