Baxley wants to rethink gun-free zones
Published: Monday, December 17, 2012 at 7:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 17, 2012 at 7:19 p.m.
As the first young victims of last week’s massacre in Connecticut were being laid to rest on Monday, state Rep. Dennis Baxley was questioning whether gun-free zones have actually become free-fire zones under current policies.
The Ocala Republican, who also chairs the influential House Judiciary Committee, said he was not pushing any specific policy in the immediate wake of the shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday.
But he suggested policy-makers in Florida — and perhaps elsewhere — ought to examine whether banning guns in some areas was working as intended, especially to stop people who are mentally unsound or have a propensity for violence.
“In a very well-intentioned effort, we have created a sterile environment for these kinds of deranged individuals,” said Baxley.
“Is it making us safer, or not making us safer? We need to ask that question. We all know what the intent is, but are we getting there?”
Some Florida news outlets reported on Monday that Baxley was advocating allowing school principals and even teachers to carry guns to prevent the kind of slaughter that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults in Newton, Conn., last week.
Baxley reiterated to the Star-Banner that he was not proposing any policy shift toward putting guns in schools or other public locations.
Emotions, he suggested, were too raw and the hurt runs too deep for a “stunned” public to consider that at this moment.
He added that he hoped neither gun-rights nor gun-control advocates would try to exploit the young victims to capitalize politically.
“It’s time to be still,” he said.
Still, Baxley indicated that the rhetorical tussle would inevitably arise between proponents of both stricter and looser gun-control measures.
And when that happens, lawmakers should be prepared to examine the full spectrum of the issues surrounding the slayings reportedly committed by Adam Lanza, Baxley said.
“We’ve got a lot to look at,” he said, noting that policies for treating the mentally ill as well as how some cultural factors have “desensitized” people about violence should be analyzed.
Guns are already off limits in select settings under Florida law, even for holders of concealed weapons permits.
Besides schools and colleges, the list includes police stations; courthouses; chambers for county commission, city council and school board meetings; sporting events; bars; airports and anywhere federal law prohibits the carrying of weapons.
The ban also covers the Legislature and its meeting places.
Baxley is the author of two of the state’s more controversial pieces of gun legislation in recent years.
He proposed the so-called Stand Your Ground law in 2005 that extended the “castle doctrine” from the home to anywhere. The law also rescinded the person’s legal duty to retreat.
The law has come under intense scrutiny following the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman and was recently reviewed by a special task force appointed by Gov. Rick Scott. Scott included Baxley on the task force.
Baxley also proposed in 2007 a controversial bill that would have forced employers to permit workers to keep guns in their cars while on the job.
A House committee voted the bill down just two days after a lone gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, murdered 32 people and wounded 17 others in a shooting spree at Virginia Tech University.
While that measure did not pass before Baxley left the Legislature in 2007 — in order to make an unsuccessful state Senate bid — the Legislature did adopt it in 2008. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist signed the bill.
Yet Baxley also championed a 2006 bill that repealed a ban on carrying weapons in the national forests within the state.
The measure was offered after a drifter from Pinellas County, Leo Boatman, shot and killed Santa Fe College student Amber Peck and her friend, John Parker, at a campsite in the Ocala National Forest.
Following that lead, President Barack Obama signed a federal law in 2010 that allows concealed weapons permit-holders to carry their guns on federal lands, provided they comply with the laws of their home state.
Baxley on Monday cited the response to the Peck-Parker murders as an example of where lawmakers believed public safety would be enhanced by reconsidering a previously designated gun-free zone.
Many schools in Marion County already have an armed presence.
According to Sgt. Angy Scroble, spokeswoman for the Ocala Police Department, OPD furnishes police officers who work as school resource officers, or SROs, at Osceola, Howard and Fort King middle schools, Vanguard and West Port high schools and the Community Technical and Adult Education center.
The Sheriff’s Office supplies armed deputies to be SROs at all middle schools and high schools outside the city limits, agency spokesman Judge Conchran said.
School district spokesman Kevin Christian said elementary schools share SROs, with one officer floating among two or more schools.
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