February 06, 2017

Post-mass shootings, little changes in Florida on mental illness and access to guns

Florida Budget (1)

@michaelauslen @ByKristenMClark

In the days after five people were shot and killed in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, some elected officials adopted a familiar routine.

As news spread that the suspected gunman told FBI agents in Alaska that he was hearing voices, Florida officials called for improvements to mental health care and tougher measures to keep guns away from people with severe psychological disorders.

The Jan. 6 mass shooting was just the latest to be followed by hand-wringing from politicians, particularly gun-rights supporters, who blamed shortcomings in the mental health system for the tragedy.

Despite years connecting mental illness and mass shootings, lawmakers in both parties have been reluctant to pass major legislation taking firearms out of the hands of people diagnosed with severe disorders.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott showed how quickly politicians can retreat after a call to action.

“One thing we have to think about is if someone is adjudicated mentally ill, it just doesn’t make any sense that they should have access to a gun,” he told reporters a week after the Fort Lauderdale shooting.

Scott and his spokespeople refused several requests by the Herald/Times to elaborate on what type of fix this would require. When pressed, he finally begged off further involvement.

“I support the Second Amendment, but I want to make sure that families in our state are safe,” Scott said when asked for details late last month in Tampa. “Whatever the Legislature wants to do — I’m not part of the legislative branch — I’ll review.”

Scott, who often lobbies the Legislature on priorities like tax cuts, could weigh in on guns if he wants, but he’s right that it’s ultimately up to lawmakers to act. And there’s much they can do.

More here.

Photo credit: Steve Cannon / AP

February 02, 2017

Proposed law would make businesses liable if they decide to ban guns

Steube_greg 012417@ByKristenMClark

Say a movie theater in Florida banned its patrons from carrying concealed handguns, but a mass shooter came in anyway and attacked — not unlike what happened in Aurora, Colo. almost five years ago.

Under an NRA-backed measure proposed this week in the Florida Legislature, victims who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon could sue the theater for damages, because its weapons ban left them disarmed when they might have been able to use their gun to thwart or stop the attack.

The new proposal (SB 610) from Senate Judiciary Chairman Greg Steube a conservative Sarasota Republican who has proposed a slew of controversial gun-rights measures this year — says the “Legislature intends to find a balance” between gun-owners’ rights and private property rights.

And Steube’s plan to do that means businesses would be held responsible — and put at risk of being sued — for decisions to ban guns.

“It’s the premise in Florida that if a private business wants to prohibit guns in their location that’s open to public, that’s fine they can do that,” Steube said. “But if you’re going to do that, in my opinion, I should have some assumption that I’m going to be protected as a conceal-carry permit-holder because you’re taking away my ability to defend myself.”

More here.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

February 01, 2017

Steube starts filing individual bills to break up his major guns proposal


State Sen. Greg Steube is following through on plans he announced last week to break up a controversial and sweeping gun measure he had initially proposed (SB 140) into as many as 10 individual bills.

Six such bills had surfaced by 4 p.m. Wednesday.

For instance, SB 618 lifts the ban on concealed weapons in airport passenger terminals, mirroring a measure already filed in the Florida House.

Other individual measures from Steube would allow concealed weapons also at legislative meetings (SB 620) and other government meetings (SB 626), in career centers (SB 640), on public college and university campuses (SB 622) and in courthouses so they can be temporarily surrendered at security (SB 616).

For more, here is our running list of gun-related bills filed for the 2017 session.

January 31, 2017

Senate Democratic leader from Miami Gardens recounts his 'reality' with gun violence

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With controversial gun legislation again proposed for Florida lawmakers to consider this spring, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon told reporters Tuesday that the Legislature needs to do a better job of understanding the true reality of gun violence -- as opposed to referencing hypothetical, Hollywood-inspired examples.

And he speaks from experience.

RELATED: "These are the gun law changes Florida lawmakers could take up in 2017"

"My reality is a little different from their’s," the Miami Gardens Democrat said, referring to his fellow legislators. "How many people have been in a club that got shot up? I can raise my hand and say that I have."

More here.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

January 24, 2017

Steube plans to dismantle his comprehensive gun bill into several smaller ones

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Senate Judiciary Chairman Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, told reporters Tuesday that he's switching strategies in the hopes of getting legislation passed this year that will make it easier for gun-owners with conceal-carry permits to carry their guns in public.

Steube had originally proposed a comprehensive gun bill, SB 140, which would have made several changes to Florida's statute governing concealed weapons -- including allowing the open carrying of guns by permit-holders.

Now acknowledging that bill might be too large for lawmakers to swallow, Steube says he's drafting legislation to effectively break up SB 140 into potentially 10 different, more narrowly focused bills that each target individual aspects of the law that he wants to change. (Senators aren't limited in the number of bills they can file, as House members are.)

"Instead of looking at it as a huge comprehensive bill, we're going to try to do it piecemeal," Steube said. "Just from feeling the tea leaves, it's probably better to attack it piece by piece."

It's unclear when the new bills will be filed; Steube said they're still being drafted.

RELATED: “These are gun law changes Florida lawmakers could take up in 2017

He said he had heard the House was planning its own omnibus companion to his original bill, "but I haven't seen it."

"I've been at this for now seven years, and sometimes it's beneficial to put everything in one bill and kind of attack it, and if there's issues, amend things out -- and sometimes it's easier to do it piece by piece," he said.

SB 140 called for allowing the open carrying of handguns by the state’s 1.7 million concealed weapons permit-holders and allowing those permit-holders to then carry guns in several places where they're currently banned: elementary and secondary schools, public college and university campuses, airport passenger terminals, legislative meetings, meetings of municipal, county, school or special district boards, and career centers.

With the smaller bills, Steube said his top priorities for passage would be the ones lifting the ban on concealed weapons at public colleges and universities and at airport terminals.

"Obviously, I filed campus-carry now for the last four or five years; that's been an issue that's important to me and will continue to be important to me," Steube said. "And given what happened at the Fort Lauderdale airport, that obviously is important to me."

RELATED: "Bloodbath shows why guns should be allowed in airports, lawmakers say"

Individual bills for both of those measures have been filed in the House. Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, is sponsoring a campus-carry bill, HB 6005, and Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, is sponsoring a bill to allow concealed guns in airport terminals, HB 6001.

Steube is a staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights, arguing that "law-abiding" concealed weapons permit-holders shouldn't be restricted in how and where they are armed. He also argues that so-called "gun-free" zones, likes universities and airports, are targets for mass shootings because criminals don't obey gun bans.

But his proposals have outraged and concerned Democrats and gun-control advocates, who argue that more guns is not the answer to reducing gun violence in Florida.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

Proposed changes to Florida's Stand Your Ground law again divide Legislature, attorneys

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An effort by conservative Republican lawmakers to revise Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is back under consideration with a viable chance at passing this year, even as opponents again warn that enacting such changes would “water down” Florida’s gun laws and make it easier for people to kill without consequence.

For the second year in a row, Fleming Island Republican Sen. Rob Bradley is proposing to alter the legal procedure for how a criminal defendant seeks immunity from prosecution under Florida’s controversial 2005 law.

Stand Your Ground allows individuals to use deadly force in self-defense — with no obligation to retreat or flee. Current practice, supported by the Florida Supreme Court, requires defendants to prove before trial why they’re entitled to such immunity.

But Bradley’s proposal (SB 128) would shift the burden of proof at that pre-trial hearing so instead, the prosecutor would need to prove before trial “beyond a reasonable doubt” why a defendant couldn’t claim they lawfully stood their ground.

There’s no public outcry for the change; it’s driven out of principle, Bradley told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday at his bill’s first vetting of the 2017 session.

More here.

Photo credit: The Florida Channel

January 19, 2017

After Fort Lauderdale airport shooting, a look at how Florida lags behind on mental health funding

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The suspect in the mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport told the FBI in Alaska in November that he was hearing voices.

Anchorage police confiscated Esteban Santiago’s handgun and took him for a mental health evaluation. Police returned his gun to him in December when he asked for it.

On Jan. 6, he flew to Broward County and is the suspected gunman in a rampage at the airport that left five dead and several others injured. Days later, Democratic state legislators held a press conference in Tallahassee to argue for gun control measures and more mental health funding.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said that Republican legislators argue that the way to reduce gun violence is not through gun control but mental health care funding. But Florida, he said, has the worst record in the nation in terms of funding mental health care treatment.

"We see once again Florida is ranked 50th in the nation for mental health care funding — 50th," he said. "There is no one that is doing worse than we are when it comes to making sure we that we are providing comprehensive mental health care."

Florida is near the bottom of the pack in mental health funding, and one key ranking cited by many experts places the state at 51st in per capita spending. However, there are some caveats about the ranking.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

January 16, 2017

These are the gun law changes Florida lawmakers could take up in 2017



Legislators have proposed several law changes for the upcoming 2017 session that would either expand or restrict gun ownership and possession.

None of the proposals have yet been vetted by lawmakers or are on the calendar to be heard in legislative committees, although at least a few are likely to be taken up. Companion bills typically need to be filed in both the House and the Senate in order for a proposal to have a chance at becoming law.

Find the full list of 2017 gun bills here. (Note: This list will be updated if and when more bills are filed.)



-- What gun rights supporters want: Read here.

-- What gun safety advocates want: Read here.

-- How the NRA and Republicans control the debate in Florida: Read here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

January 15, 2017

NRA, Republican leaders shape gun law debate in Tallahassee


Marion Hammer’s phone rang as news bulletins reported that five tourists were shot to death at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The longtime Florida gun lobbyist said a friend told her that the Jan. 6 shootings probably ended any chance of the Legislature’s passing a law to allow licensed gun owners to carry weapons in airport common areas.

But Hammer said the shooting helped her cause, proving that more guns in places like airports were needed.

That rationale will find a lot of support from Republican legislators in the 2017 session.

Hammer has a powerful ally in House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who said gun-free zones that leave people defenseless are dangerous.

“If law-abiding citizens could carry a gun to a baggage claim,” Corcoran said, “I think you’re going to see gun violence rapidly decline. So why don’t we do that for a change? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Full story here.



-- What gun rights supporters want: Read here.

-- What gun safety advocates want: Read here.

-- What gun law changes are on the table this year: Read here.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

January 14, 2017

Gun safety proponents: More regulations will make Florida safer from gun violence

Guh18 GunsBack NEW PPP@MichaelAuslen

Since the summer shooting that devastated Latin night at Pulse, an Orlando gay nightclub, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith has worn a rainbow-patterned ribbon on his lapel.

It’s a physical reminder of 49 lives lost seven months ago in the worst mass shooting this country has seen, an event that led Smith, who is gay and Hispanic, to focus on gun control in his first campaign for the Florida House of Representatives.

“I see a Florida, a safer Florida, where there are fewer guns because only the more responsible, law-abiding gun owners are allowed to possess those weapons and they can only possess certain kinds of weapons to protect themselves,” said Smith, a Democrat whose district is just five miles from Pulse.

Gun-control supporters — mostly Democrats — don’t have much clout in the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. Still, they’re pushing new restrictions they say will make it harder for potentially dangerous people to obtain firearms.

They are quick to say they don’t want to take away people’s guns. But they do want an end to what Dania Beach Democratic Rep. Evan Jenne calls a “Swiss cheese” approach to gun regulations.



-- What gun rights supporters want: Read here.

-- How the NRA and Republicans control the debate in Florida: Read here.

-- What gun law changes are on the table this year: Read here.

Photo credit: Miami Police detectives register guns collected from the public during a gun buy back event hosted by the department and the Rickia Isaac Foundation at Dorsey Park in Miami, December 17, 2016. Pedro Portal / El Nuevo Herald