Senate Democrats want assault weapons ban on the table when Legislature reconvenes

One Year Anniversary Parkland tragedy
Sheena Billups prepares to lay flowers in a memorial setup at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, one year after the mass shooting on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Seizing on comments made by Florida’s Republican state Senate President Bill Galvano that he wants to understand the “various factors involved in mass shootings,” the top Democrat in the Florida Senate says it’s past time for the Legislature to “break the grip” of the National Rifle Association and pass gun-safety measures when lawmakers convene next January – including a ban on assault-style type weapons.

“Whether the massacre unfolded in El Paso, Dayton, or Las Vegas, Newtown, Parkland or Pulse, the one inescapable common thread that bound each and every one of these horrific mass shootings is the presence of an assault weapon,” Jacksonville Democratic state Sen. Audrey Gibson wrote in a letter to Galvano this week. “In Florida, the problem is compounded thanks to easy access to these weapons, lack of background checks for private gun purchases, and constraints placed on family members preventing them from proactive measures to stop a tragedy before it happens. These are the critical elements Senate Democrats have attempted to address in the past, yet continue to await the full attention of the Florida Legislature.”

Gibson then listed specific proposals that Senate Democrats have proposed in advance of the 2020 legislative session.

Among them: A proposal by Orlando Sen. Linda Stewart to ban the sale or transfer of assault weapons or high-capacity ammunition magazines, which allow shooters to kill more people faster. The bill also calls for people who own assault weapons or high-capacity ammunition magazines to have  “proper certification.”

Gibson also lists separate bills on background checks proposed by Broward County-based Democratic senators Lauren Book and Gary Farmer.

Farmer’s bill would eliminate the exemption on background check requirements for private sales of firearms – also known as the gun-show loophole. The bill would require  all private sales or gun transfers be facilitated by a licensed firearms dealer, who would be required by law to perform a background check.

Book’s legislation would do the same, but also apply to the sale or transfer of guns via the internet.

And Gibson also wants to explore an expansion of the state’s “red flag law” that is being sponsored by Broward County Democrat Lori Berman in the Senate. The measure would allow a parent, legal guardian, spouse or sibling of a person believed to be in danger to himself or the community to go before a judge with what is known as a Risk Protection Order. Currently, only a law enforcement officer can go before a judge.

“In the name of white nationalism, 22 people died, and 26 were wounded after an anti-immigrant gunman opened fire on back-to-school shoppers in El Paso,” Gibson writes. “Hatred drove him; some say hatred even pulled the trigger. But should we fail to give these bills the thorough consideration they deserve, we continue to risk the lives of every family, every child – every Floridian – who looks to us for leadership and solutions to this escalating threat to their safety. We continue to provide the means by which that trigger can be pulled.”

Meanwhile, a very active citizens’ campaign is underway to get a statewide ban of assault-style weapons before voters on the 2020 ballot.

The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature traditionally has been hostile to any type of gun-control regulations, and in 2019 rejected all of the proposals Sen. Gibson backs in her letter.

The one exception was in 2018, when legislators were already convened and compelled to act after 17 people were killed and another 17 wounded in a mass shooting at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland. Legislators passed a measure that raised the age to purchase a gun in the state from 18 to 21; required a three-day waiting period for rifles and other long guns; allowed police to seize weapons from those who pose a danger to themselves or others; and banned the sale of so-called “bump stocks” which allow a shooter to kill more victims more rapidly.

Gibson writes that for far too long in Florida and the country, “common-sense gun reforms have been thwarted by the gun lobby.”

“They are intent on maintaining the status quo, no matter the cost in lives, no matter the families they help to destroy,” she writes. “Their version of solutions has been and continues to be more guns, and Florida is awash in them. In both Pulse and two years later, Parkland, the destruction they unleashed is testament to the hold they maintain on this legislature. We have the power to finally break that grip. We also have the moral obligation.”

While Republican Senate President Galvano has expressed an open mind about a debate on the various factors leading to gun violence, House Speaker Jose Oliva and Governor Ron DeSantis have been silent on whether regulating guns is the answer to the country’s gun violence problem.

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