Mass shootings in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale have brought conversations about gun rights and restrictions front and center this legislative session.
Republican state Senator Greg Steube of Sarasota has proposed 10 bills to expand gun rights. The easiest way to sum up that legislation: Take away as many barriers as you can to bringing concealed weapons into public places, and allow the open carry of a weapon wherever it’s legal to bring a concealed one.
Steube, though, may not be the most important lawmaker this session when it comes to guns. Enter Miami Republican Senator Anitere Flores. She’s the second-in-command in the Florida Senate and a key member of the Judiciary Committee. She’s in an important post to stop gun legislation.
“I do not support having guns on campus,” Flores said. “I do not support having guns in airports. I do not support having guns in school zones. I do not support those things.”
That means those measures are likely dead this year. But there are others: more than 18 gun rights expansions and restrictions proposed. Even for Florida, it’s a lot.
They allow open carry wherever you can carry a concealed weapon. One bill would make it easier to sue businesses that prohibit guns. Others would allow concealed weapons into government meetings and career centers. One bill eliminates all the restrictions on concealed weapons, so you could carry a gun into a bar, a courtroom and a polling place.
“I like to call these bills this year gun bills on steroids, because we’ve seen some proposals that are just mind-boggling,” said Patricia Brigham, the first vice president and gun safety chair with the Florida League of Women Voters.
The gun bill that’s the biggest priority for Senate President Joe Negron? A bill that would shift the burden of proof in so-called “stand your ground” cases. Currently, defendants have to prove at a pretrial hearing why they should be immune from prosecution. Now that burden would shift to prosecutors.
“If the state is going to charge you with a crime and convict you and incarcerate you, they have the burden of proof at each and every stage of the criminal proceeding to prove the case against you,” Negron said. “And the standard in our constitution is beyond and to the exclusion of every other reasonable doubt.”
On the gun control side, Democrats have filed bills to require a mental health professional sign off before issuing a concealed weapons permit. They want to add to background checks to buy a gun and tighten requirements on keeping guns locked up in homes with children – proposals that have little chance of passing in a Republican-controlled Legislature.
In the wake of Pulse, Orlando Democrats have filed bills to restrict assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
“You don’t want to say the ‘P’ word in Tallahassee,” Guillermo Smith said. “And that’s Pulse. And the reason why is because Republicans are uncomfortable talking about the issues invoked by Pulse.”
Guillermo Smith recently debated Longwood Republican Scott Plakon on one gun control measure: guns on college campuses. Plakon said when he was first campaigning, he hoped to avoid questions about guns on college campuses.
“Well, much like the people who oppose it today, I had this vision of drunken fraternity people with weapons,” Plakon said.
Plakon says people are born with the constitutional right to bear arms. The government needs a compelling reason to take that right from you. He hasn’t found that compelling reason on college campuses.
He changed his mind three years ago when his daughter, a senior at Lake Mary High School, thought there was a shooter at her school.
“Fortunately, this turned out to be a hoax, but for the better part of an hour, I lived believing my daughter was trapped in a gun-free zone with a shooter,” Plakon said. “That changed my perspective as well.”
On the black-and-white concrete Pulse sign in downtown Orlando, there are two photos taped to the beam. It’s a makeshift memorial for Drew Lienonen and his boyfriend Juan Guerrero, who both died in the mass shooting last summer. The photos are fading in the brutal Florida sun.
Drew’s mother Christine Leinonen is working to keep her son’s memory from fading. Her perspective on assault weapons has been the same since she was a police officer: She was afraid she would come up against an assault weapon. Since Pulse, she’s been advocating to control them.
“We didn’t put not one single road block in place for my son’s killer,” Leionen says. “We as an American people, we let my son down. This guy didn’t even have to break one law until he walked into that gun-free zone.