A special legislative session on guns? Florida’s House Democratic caucus is pushing for it

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(Updated) Florida legislative Democrats are calling on the Secretary of State to hold a special legislative session to consider proposals to combat gun violence.

Republican legislative leaders are not backing the idea.

The calls for special sessions in Florida to tackle gun restrictions have happened several times in recent years following high-profile shootings. This time it’s after the horrific shootings earlier this month in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio which left 31 Americans dead.

Florida law dictates that if Secretary of State Laurel Lee receives letters requesting a special session by at least 32 members of the Legislature (20 percent), then she must hold a poll of the entire 120-legislative body within the following week. More than 32 members have now sent letters to Lee, triggering her to conduct the poll, the Florida Democratic Party said in a statement. The Secretary of State’s office has not confirmed that yet.

The Democrats propose six measures they want to debate and vote on:

1) Requiring background checks for all firearms transfers.

2) Prohibiting the sale, transfer or possession of large capacity ammunition magazines.

3) Reducing the duration of licenses required to carry concealed firearms.

4) Revising requirements for the safe storage of weapons in the home.

5) Expanding the number of individuals that can petition a court for a risk-protection order when a gun owner is believed to be at risk to themselves or others (current Florida law allows law enforcement to go before a judge to make such a request).

6) Establishing an Urban Core Gun Violence Task Force focused on reducing day-to-day gun violence.

“The people of Florida deserve better. They deserve to live in cities free from the plague of daily gun violence,” said Coral Gables Democratic Rep. Javier Fernandez in a written statement. “They deserve to attend gatherings, schools, and houses of worship without a looming fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. And they deserve a legislature who will do all it can to protect them. It’s too late for those impacted by gun violence yesterday, but if we act quickly we can stem the tide and save lives.”

In her own letter to Secretary Lee, North Miami Rep. Dotie Joseph wrote that “we especially need to take steps to protect our vulnerable minority communities of color and religious minorities that are the targets of white nationalist terrorists that perpetrate these mass shootings.”

The odds of such a special session happening are remote, however.

Florida Republicans rejected a request for a special session last summer to address the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law. The request came just weeks after a 28-year-old African-American, Markeis McGlockton, was shot and killed outside a convenience store in Clearwater after a confrontation. The local sheriff initially declined to arrest or charge the alleged shooter, Michael Drejka, invoking the stand your ground law. Drejka was later arrested and charged, and his trial began this week in Pinellas County.

Florida Republicans also rejected a request for a special session in June 2016 after 49 people were killed at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. At the time, it was the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.

And in 2013, Florida Republicans refused to bring back the Legislature for a special session after Democrats called to repeal the Stand Your Ground law when African-American teenager Trayvon Martin was murdered by a self-appointed neighborhood watch man, George Zimmerman, in Central Florida.

There is no reason to think that this time will be any different.

While both Republican Senate President Bill Galvano and Republican House Speaker Jose Oliva denounced white nationalism in statements following the shooting attacks in El Paso and Dayton earlier this month, neither has commented on singling out any specific gun reform proposal.

And tensions emerged between the two parties last week after Democrats added language about banning assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines to a resolution that Senate Republicans were writing to denounce  white nationalism and white supremacy, according to the News Service of Florida.

There’s one exception to the years-long resistance that Florida Republicans have shown when it comes to gun restriction.

In 2018, lawmakers were convened in Tallahassee I when  17 people were killed and another 17 wounded by a student at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland.

After survivors visited the Capitol and called on legislators to do something, the Legislature passed a gun safety bill that did a number of things, including raising the age to purchase all  guns from 18 to 21; mandating a three-day waiting period to purchase a gun; creating a “Red Flag” law that allows the people to temporarily confiscate guns from anyone subject to involuntary psychiatric evaluation under the Baker Act; and banned so-called “bump stocks,” which allow shooters to kill more people faster.

House Speaker Jose Oliva weighed in later on Tuesday, saying he takes the issue seriously, but that the first committee hearings begin next month and such action should wait at least until then, if not for the regular session which begins in January.

“Two years ago, in a bipartisan effort we created the risk protection order and it’s effectiveness is without question. From Sheriff Gualtieri to Moms Demand Action, our proactive efforts at prevention are being praised for their effectiveness,” he said in a written statement.
“While I’m sure this request for special session is sincere and well intentioned, we must always strive to do something right rather than just do something. We have committee weeks coming up and regular session shortly thereafter. I have no doubt that there will be robust discussions about our Second Amendment rights, mental health, and their importance in our society. Lastly, I’ve always been particularly proud that we work on this issue in a bipartisan manner.  I still believe it is the best way to do so.”

 

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