State gun legislation gets little movement


Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 10:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 9:36 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Although the threat of gun violence continues to loom in Florida, with a potential shooting spree averted at the University of Central Florida this week, lawmakers remain reluctant to take up any firearm-safety measures.

In fact, nearly all the more than a dozen gun-control bills filed for the 2013 session haven't been heard in a committee meeting — much less have a chance of reaching the Senate or House floor.

“We haven't done very much in the line of reasonable gun control,” said Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, who has sponsored three gun-control bills. “We're not talking about banning guns.”

Braynon is sponsoring one measure (SB 374) that would allow local governments to prohibit concealed weapons at publicly sanctioned events, including sports events like the Super Bowl, or a concert. The issue prompted national headlines last summer when Tampa was blocked by the state from trying to restrict concealed weapons near the Republican National Convention.

Braynon said if some of his gun-safety bills could get a hearing, he believes “most people would agree” with his effort to limit guns in certain situations.

“I'm going to continue to press for them,” Braynon said. “They're important for my district.”

Other major gun-safety measures that have stalled in the session include:

Efforts to repeal or revamp the Florida's Stand Your Ground law, a self-defense provision that has been called into question following the shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, last year near Orlando.

Bills to close the so-called “gun show loophole” where gun buyers can avoid a background check if they purchase weapons at a show rather than from a licensed dealer, who must run a check.

Measures to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

Repeal of the “docs versus Glocks” law that prohibit physicians from talking about gun ownership with their patients. The law has been temporarily blocked by the federal courts, while it remains on appeal.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, like House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Gov. Rick Scott, is a strong supporter of gun-ownership rights. They are all also Republicans, while most the gun-control legislation is coming from the Democrats, who are a minority party in the Legislature.

Gaetz said he has not used his power as the Senate leader to block any legislation from being heard in a committee. Gaetz said it is up to the individual senators to work with the committee chairmen to get their bills on the agenda.

As for the UCF incident — in which a former student planned an armed attack on the campus but committed suicide when police arrived — Gaetz said it underscored the need for adequate mental health services more than changes in state law.

“I think it just emphasizes that you can't legislate against crazy,” Gaetz said. “And that we need to really do as much as we can to make sure that mental health is taken into account. If we know that people have instability, mental health problems, that we get them assistance.

“I wish we could pass a law against crazy and a lot of bad things wouldn't happen in this world.”

While most of the legislation restricting the use of guns will go nowhere in the 60-day session, one measure advanced Tuesday in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

The measure, sponsored by a Democrat — Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens — would expand the definition of mentally ill Floridians who would be prohibited from buying a gun or obtaining a concealed weapons permit.

Existing law limits the restrictions to those who are detained under the state's Baker Act and then involuntarily committed to mental health facilities for further treatment.

Watson's bill (HB 1355) would expand it to include Floridians detained under the act but then are voluntarily placed in mental health treatment. It would only apply those deemed an “imminent danger” to themselves or others, with the right to legally challenge the determination.

Watson said the distinction is important because only 1 percent of those detained under the Baker Act end up in involuntary treatment programs, while 99 percent are voluntary.

It would also place those mentally ill Floridians deemed a threat to others in a federal background database — the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or NICS.

And in a rarity, the politically powerful National Rifle Association is backing the bill — dramatically increasing its odds for passage this year. The House criminal justice panel backed the measure unanimously, with Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, voting for the bill.

“This is a critically important bill because it closes the gap that many people didn't know existed,” said Marion Hammer, a former NRA president and longtime gun-rights lobbyist.

The bill creates a process to prevent mentally ill people who are a threat to others from “slipping through the cracks” and being able to purchase weapons, she said.

“We are not impacting the right of law-abiding people to purchase firearms,” Hammer said. “We're merely conforming to the law that keeps guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”

Hammer said the bill is different from the other gun-control measures that have been filed in the 2013 session.

“All the other gun-control bills I've seen absolutely focus on the law-abiding people rather than the criminal element,” she said.

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