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Special Session Failure Unlikely To End Gun Debate

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Michael Rivera
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

After their call for a special legislative session failed, Florida Democrats say they will continue to seek "common-sense" regulations on the sales of weapons to people on federal watch lists.

With only a single Republican joining with Democrats, initial numbers released by the Florida Department of State indicated there wasn't enough legislative support for a requested special session to deal with gun control as a reaction to the mass shooting last month at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

"We'll stay focused on public safety, supporting common-sense controls on the purchase of weapons while protecting the rights of law-abiding Floridians," state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, said in a prepared statement late Friday. "We had a rational response to discuss and debate in the aftermath of the mass murder of 49 people and the shooting of scores more in our state by a terrorist. It will still be reasonable and favored by a wide majority of people when the Legislature does come into session."

Moskowitz was among the Democrats who last week pushed for the extra session, rounding up 46 Democratic lawmakers to sign a petition that required Secretary of State Ken Detzner to survey all 160 members of the House and Senate on the request.

The focus on the session would have been to discuss a proposed prohibition on gun sales to people on federal terrorism watch lists.

Incoming House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said in a release that supporters consider it "reasonable" to fix the "loophole" now, rather than waiting for the 2017 regular session.

"The Republican governor, the Republican leadership of the Legislature and a group of Republican lawmakers said no, they're sticking to their guns," Cruz said.

Republican leaders had wasted little time announcing they would vote against the proposed special session, which House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said was "motivated by partisan politics."

Detzner had a Tuesday deadline to complete the survey. Holding a special session would require support from 60 percent of the members of the House and the Senate, both of which are dominated by Republicans.

As of Saturday, the votes cast by members of the Senate stood at 13 votes in support and 11 votes in opposition.

All the votes against the session came from Republicans. But Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who faces an election challenge from Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Pinecrest, joined 12 Democrats in voting for the session.

In the House, 33 Democrats had voted "yes" and 54 members had cast "no" votes. Democratic House members Katie Edwards of Plantation and Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda of Tallahassee, joined 52 Republicans in voting against the session.

This is not the first time Edwards and Rehwinkel Vasilinda have sided with Republicans in opposing a potential special session.

In 2013, Democrats fell well short of the support needed when seeking a special session on the state's "stand your ground" self-defense law.

The effort three years ago stemmed from a sit-in protest at the Capitol by a group called the Dream Defenders. The group protested against the "stand your ground" law after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford.

The final tally in 2013 was 47 votes for the extra session and 108 against, including seven House Democrats.