January 15, 2017

NRA, Republican leaders shape gun law debate in Tallahassee

Capitol@SteveBousquet

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.

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RELATED COVERAGE:

-- 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.

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RELATED COVERAGE:

-- 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

Gun rights supporters: Less restrictions, more guns by the 'law-abiding' could be deterrent

Divided America Far From United@ByKristenMClark

Picture this different view of public life in Florida.

In a college lecture hall, the instructor is licensed to carry a gun and has a Glock holstered on her hip. In a public meeting at city hall, the mayor, also licensed, is carrying a sidearm. A resident — yes, licensed and openly armed — strolls into baggage claim at the airport to pick up visiting relatives.

These and other locations currently are dubbed “gun free” zones because state law prohibits concealed-carry permit-holders from carrying, and it’s that restriction that gun rights advocates say makes gun-free zones vulnerable to attack.

Within hours after Esteban Santiago shot up the Terminal 2 baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6, killing five and wounding six, gun-rights advocates offered a familiar refrain: Gun-free zones don’t work.

Proponents of Second Amendment rights say both the Fort Lauderdale shooting and the Pulse nightclub massacre last summer in Orlando are examples of why restrictions on permitted gun owners don’t help prevent tragedy — and why Florida’s gun laws should be opened up to afford more freedom for people to defend themselves.Because criminals are going to break the law regardless, they argue, the solution to less gun violence is more guns — and fewer restrictions — for “law abiding” residents, who might then deter potential shooters or intervene and stop them from doing more harm. 

“Here we go again. Another gun-free zone. Another place where a shooter can take lives and cause injury, and there’s nobody there armed to protect anybody or to stop the shooter,” said Marion Hammer, the NRA’s longtime Tallahassee lobbyist.

Full story here.

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RELATED COVERAGE:

-- What gun safety advocates 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: Gun-rights advocate, restaurant owner and mother of four sons, Lauren Boebert, wears her usual gun on her hip as she brushes the hair of Roman, 3, as the family gets ready to leave home for church in Rifle, Colo., on May 1, 2016. Brennan Linsley / AP

January 13, 2017

Recent mass shootings spark fresh debate over Florida gun laws

Guh18 GunsBack NEW PPP

@SteveBousquet @ByKristenMClark @MichaelAuslen

In the past seven months, mass shootings at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport have brought renewed scrutiny to Florida’s gun laws. The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau examined two competing ideas to change those laws: One would ease access to guns in hopes that armed bystanders could prevent more tragedies. The other would restrict gun access, making it harder for would-be killers to obtain weapons. But in a state Capitol where guns are a divisive and sometimes politically toxic topic, dramatic change is almost certain to fail.

-- 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.

-- 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

January 09, 2017

Andrew Gillum calls for moratorium on deregulating gun control in Florida

Andrew Gillum

@ByKristenMClark

Tallahassee Mayor (and potential 2018 gubernatorial candidate) Andrew Gillum said Monday that the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando back in June and Friday's shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport should be wake-up calls for Florida's lawmakers.

As the Legislature prepares to vet several bills in the 2017 session that would expand gun-owners' rights, Gillum is calling for a moratorium on "all gun deregulation bills until we find a solution to protect our communities."

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

"In light of back-to-back mass shootings in less than a year and the daily pain that gun violence inflicts on our cities, it is clear that attempts to weaken our gun safety laws have failed to keep Floridians safe," Gillum said in a statement provided to the Herald/Times. "No mother or grandmother should fear walking into an airport. No father, son, or daughter should lose their life for meeting those they love for a night out. No parent should lose sleep wondering if a stray bullet will take their baby that day."

"It is time to bring commonsense back to the Capitol by ending the attack on gun safety and passing reform measures that protect our families from harm," Gillum added. "Our prayers for the victims and their families should be matched by our vigorous actions to keep families safe from repeated incidents of gun violence."

Florida's Republican-led Legislature is unlikely to heed the call from Gillum and other gun-control advocates. Many members of legislative leadership are strident supporters of Second Amendment rights.

In the wake of Friday's shooting in Fort Lauderdale, two conservative Republican lawmakers -- Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia -- who had previously been proposing to lift the ban on concealed weapons in airport terminals doubled down on their proposal.

While their bills would not have prevented Esteban Santiago from killing five people and wounding six others, they argue that allowing Florida's 1.7 million concealed weapons permit-holders to carry in airport terminals could have, perhaps, given bystanders a chance to defend themselves.

RELATED: "Airport shooter had mental health problems but no apparent ties to terrorism"

Legislative committees begin meeting this week to start vetting bills filed for the upcoming 2017 session, which begins in March. Gun legislation is not scheduled to be heard this week. 

Gillum's name is among a handful of Democrats who are said to be considering a run for governor next year. He's been outspoken lately against the gun lobby, including the NRA. The First District Court of Appeals is hearing oral arguments on Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by gun rights groups, who sued Gillum and other Tallahassee officials after they failed in 2014 to repeal a ban on guns in a city park.

Photo credit: City of Tallahassee

As Florida again poised to consider campus-carry, Texas offers recent example

Ut austin guns on campus

@ByKristenMClark

As Florida lawmakers prepare to grapple again — for the third year in a row — with whether to allow concealed guns on public college and university campuses, another state has recent experience with this polarizing debate.

Conservative lawmakers in Texas also took several years before ultimately approving guns on their state’s campuses two years ago. They, too, faced resistance from many university presidents and attracted both praise and outrage from residents, as Florida lawmakers are starting to experience again this year.

Texas’ law took effect only five months ago on Aug. 1, making the state the eighth — and most recent — to allow concealed guns on public higher ed campuses. Twenty-three other states leave the policy up to individual colleges and universities, while 19 states, including Florida, have essentially a full ban.

When Texas’ law was implemented this summer, “the reaction was varied,” said David Daniel, deputy chancellor of the University of Texas System, which has 14 institutions including U-T Dallas where Daniel was president until 2015.

“On some campuses, there was a very high level of angst, tension and it was a distraction from the core work of the university,” Daniel said, whereas in “a small area with predominantly ranching communities where people are comfortable carrying firearms in a routine manner, it could be not a big deal.”

Texas has around 40 public universities, while Florida has 12. Florida has more active concealed weapons permits: 1.7 million compared to Texas’ nearly 1.2 million, as of Dec. 31.

After five months under the law, “we have been fortunate that there hasn’t been any major issues that have ratcheted up the level of concern,” said Chris Meyer, associate vice president for safety and security at Texas A&M University. “Campus has relaxed from the very tense state it was in. We’re much closer to being back to normal.”

Read more.

Photo credit: University of Texas at Austin anthropology professor Pauline Strong posts a sign prohibiting guns at her office on the first day of the new campus-carry law Monday, Aug. 1, 2016.  Jay Janner / AP

January 08, 2017

Some Florida lawmakers have wanted to allow concealed guns in airport terminals

@ByKristenMClark

Two conservative Republican lawmakers who want to lift Florida’s ban on concealed weapons in airport terminals say Friday’s shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport strengthens the need for their proposal.

Weeks before Esteban Santiago opened fire on Friday in a baggage-claim area, killing five people and injuring six others, state Sen. Greg Steube and state Rep. Jake Raburn had filed bills in the Florida Legislature that would allow the 1.7 million people with concealed weapons permits in the state to carry their guns in airport passenger terminals.

Raburn, R-Lithia, said Saturday that the proposal wasn’t inspired by any particular incident but is a matter of allowing “lawfully abiding citizens” to protect themselves, even if it’s simply while picking up loved ones from the airport.

Raburn told the Herald/Times “it’s hard to say” if his bill, if in place now, would have made a difference on Friday. He said 44 states already allow guns in airport terminals.

“There’s always the potential — if it were allowed and there were someone in that area that had a concealed weapon — that it could have gone differently,” Raburn said. “I’m not going to say that it would have, because my understanding is we’re talking about a span of time that’s less than a minute. It may not have changed anything.”

More here.

January 05, 2017

Inspired by Pulse, Orlando Democrats seek assault-weapons ban in Florida

Nightclub Shooting Florida

@ByKristenMClark

Two Orlando lawmakers want Florida to ban assault-style weapons in the wake of the shooting massacre at Pulse nightclub seven months ago, but in a conservative-leaning Legislature, their idea is unlikely to get any traction.

State Sen. Linda Stewart and state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, both Democrats, introduced legislation Thursday for lawmakers to consider in the upcoming 2017 session; the bills (SB 254 / HB 167) both include a detailed list of specific guns and "parts that convert a firearm into an assault weapon"-- such as large-capacity magazines -- which would be prohibited under their proposed law.

The plan would make it a third-degree felony, with some exceptions, to sell or possess an assault weapon or large-capacity magazine, among other restrictions imposed. Smith and Stewart announced the legislation at a press conference in Orlando. 

"Assault weapons are the gold standard for mass murder. They are weapons of war, designed for war and have no place on our streets or in civilian hands," Smith said in a statement provided by the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. "We all have the right to defend ourselves and our families with a firearm, but nobody needs military-style assault weapons to do it."

The coalition, started by the League of Women Voters of Florida, formed after the Pulse shooting and its members include groups like Equality Florida, the Hispanic Federation, Interfaith Council of Central Florida, Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, Florida PTA and Doctors for America.

“We have a responsibility to act. If not now when?” Stewart said in a statement from her legislative office. “There is no legitimate reason whatsoever to own these types of weapons; we’re not taking anybody’s guns away and we’re not infringing on anybody’s right to hunt or protect themselves in their home. We need to start getting control of the things we can, and do common-sense things to prevent what happened at Pulse from ever being repeated.”

Forty-nine people were gunned down at the nightclub on June 12 after gunman Omar Mateen opened fire. It is the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

A handful of gun-related measures have been proposed for the 2017 legislative session, which begins in March. In contrast to Smith's and Stewart's proposals, though, most of the bills would significantly expand gun owners' rights by opening up how and where handguns could be carried. Many of the Republican-led Legislature's most influential leaders support gun rights.

Photo credit: John Raoux / AP

Tallahassee mayor blasts gun lobby, launches campaign against special-interest 'bullies'

Andrew Gillum

@ByKristenMClark

In advance of oral arguments before an appeals court next week, Tallahassee's Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum is taking aim at the gun lobby -- and using that as a stepping stone to launch a "grassroots effort" to protect local governments' control on an array of high-profile issues.

Gillum is among a short-list of Democrats believed to be considering a run for governor in 2018, and an initiative of this kind could help boost his name recognition outside the state's capital city.

Gun-rights groups sued Gillum and other Tallahassee officials a couple years ago when city leaders declined to repeal an ordinance prohibiting the shooting of guns in a public park. The lawsuit goes before the First District Court of Appeals on Tuesday.

In a post published Thursday on Medium, Gillum criticizes the NRA -- although Florida Carry, Inc. initiated the lawsuit -- and laments their "spending big money to take away local voices and local control, using tactics called preemption and super-preemption."

"We hope to set a precedent for challenging these 'super-preemption' overreaches," Gillum wrote. "Our partners recognize that if these threats are deployed today by the gun lobby, there’s nothing stopping special interests from coming after protections for immigrants, the LGBT community, the environment, and others. We want to stand up to these bullies everywhere they show up."

That's why Gillum says he's launching the "Campaign to Defend Local Solutions." He said the grassroots group wants to "send a message to state lawmakers" and has plans for events to address "looming threats on issues like minimum wage and health benefits, the environment, local hiring practices and water quality."

The campaign is using a hashtag (#DefendLocal) to promote itself on social media, and a website has been launched -- although, for now, the only information on it is a form to collect names, zip codes and email addresses of its supporters.

Besides Gillum, other Democrats said to be weighing campaigns for governor are former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Orlando attorney John Morgan, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

December 20, 2016

Open-carry bill should have a friendlier path next year in Florida Senate

Guns

@ByKristenMClark

For the past two legislative sessions, the Florida Senate had been the blockade for NRA-endorsed gun bills, but the odds are now greater that that trend won't continue in 2017.

A contentious and comprehensive bill that allows for the open-carrying of handguns and otherwise expands gun-owners' rights in Florida will have an easier path to the Senate floor next spring, thanks to friendlier committee assignments than similar proposals that previously stalled.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has sent SB 140 -- by Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube -- to be heard before three committees, all chaired by conservative Republicans who passionately support gun-owners' rights. They are: Steube's Judiciary Committee; Government Oversight & Accountability, chaired by Dennis Baxley of Ocala; and Rules, chaired by Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers.

Committee assignments are a routine step that is typically not significant but, in this case, is quite revealing of Senate leadership's support for Steube's wide-ranging measure.

Notably: The bill will not be reviewed by the Criminal Justice Committee, a common stop for past gun-related legislation. That committee is now chaired by an Orlando Democrat, Randolph Bracy.

When reporters asked Negron about Steube's bill earlier Tuesday -- before the committee assignments were published -- Negron was vague on where the bill would be routed.

His spokeswoman, Katie Betta, told the Herald/Times this afternoon: "The President referenced the bill to the committees he deemed appropriate, based on his judgement after reviewing the bill."

"I've always been a strong proponent of Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens," Negron told reporters earlier Tuesday. "A particular bill, we'll have to see what components are in it. Obviously I have a lot of confidence in Senator Steube."

Steube's legislation would allow nearly 1.7 million people with with concealed-weapons permits in Florida to openly carry their firearms. It would also remove several locations from the list where concealed weapons are currently banned -- allowing guns at legislative meetings, local government meetings, airport passenger terminals and public schools, colleges and universities.

There's no guarantee that Steube's bill has the votes to pass, but these committee assignments at least give it a better chance at advancing.

The stopgap in previous legislative sessions that had prevented similar gun proposals from reaching the Senate floor had been then-Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. He had denied such bills the chance to be heard at his committee, let alone voted on. He lost re-election in November to Democrat José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami.

Proposals calling for open carry and to allow concealed weapons in airport passenger terminals and on public college and university campuses have been filed in the House for next session as well, but as individual pieces of legislation.

Photo credit: AP