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Death Of Gun Bills In Fla. Senate Pit GOP Allies, Gun Rights Groups Against One Another

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Credit MGN Online
MGN Online

The official start to the 2018 legislative session is about a month away, and already, some high profile gun bills appear to be dead. Discussion surrounding the proposals not only pit Republicans against one another, it’s led to sparring between gun rights groups as well.

Sen. Kelli Stargel’s (R-Lakeland) bill gives places of worship attached to a school the authority to allow guns on the private property.

“There are two schools of thoughts,” she said. “Some people believe that if we keep guns out of hands, bad things won’t happen. And, then, I have the school of thought that believes the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun. I don’t think we’re going to solve that issue today, and come to a reconciliation between those two schools of thoughts. I think everyone fully believes their position on those issues.”

But, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Roy Blondeau—a former prosecutor—disagreed.

“One thing I learned during my 25 years as a prosecuting attorney is more guns means more killing,” he said, at the time. “Now, this lady argued that the answer to a bad man with a gun is a good person with a gun. Well, what is a good person with a gun? People with conceal weapons permits are not experts in guns.”

And, in i ts very first committee, Stargel’s measure failed on a 4-6 vote with two South Florida Republicans joining Democrats in opposing the bill.

Then, it was Sen. Greg Steube’s (R-Sarasota) turn with his so-called “courthouse carry” bill. That would have allowed guns inside a courthouse. But, the guns would have to be stored with security officers.

But, Steube didn’t stop there. He amended the bill to include other gun proposals. They included Stargel’s failed proposal. Another lowered penalties for accidental displays of a firearm. 

“It also has language as it relates to bumpstocks,” he said, during the committee he chairs. “Look at lines 262 to 268. We are urging the United States Congress and President Trump to instruct the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to revisit and review all previous rulings related to bumpstocks and issue a clarifying ruling and a national policy that will apply uniformly to all the states.”

Bumpstocks are modifications that increase a weapon’s rate of fire.

Meanwhile, Steube’s bill also included a provision that created mixed feelings among gun rights groups.

“Currently, if a person purchases a firearm, and the background check pops back from FDLE [Florida Department of Law Enforcement] as a decline, nothing is done,” he added. “FDLE just declines that, and the firearms dealer just goes about their business and doesn’t issue the firearm. So, what this bill also has language to do is if, when FDLE does the background check and it comes back as a decline, they are to notify local law enforcement, and let local law enforcement investigate why whoever it was, was trying to purchase the firearm, was declined.”

The National Rifle Association supported the new changes. But, Eric Friday with gun rights group Florida Carry says while he supports courthouse carry bill, he does not support some of the new changes—particularly provisions turning over rejected background checks to local law enforcement for investigation.

“The amendment will result in prosecutions, investigations, and arrest of law abiding citizens by mistake,” Friday said.

And, as for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the gun control advocates group opposed all the measures.

“It would make it easier to carry hidden, loaded guns into buildings that house courtrooms,” said Jamie. “It would also subject our local officials to lawsuits and penalties for trying to protect public safety. The bill has been amended to include two other dangerous policies. These include provisions to allow open carry in public places and to allow guns in private schools.”

Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee also opposed the bills. And, Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) says he voted against the proposals for several reasons.

“The fact that we’ve combined all these bills into one massive package,” he said. “I just have a difficult time supporting it. You’re talking to someone who believes that we should not do things to take away the rights of individuals to own guns, and we should do more to ensure that people have access to mental health treatments and substance abuse treatments, and yet, this bill does nothing to address those issues.”

And, with the failure of each proposal to pass, Florida Carry—in its newsletter—blamed Senator Garcia and Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) for helping to tank several of the proposals.

The NRA’s Marion Hammer also did the same, adding Florida Carry to her target list. In her newsletter to her members, she stated Florida Carry sided with Moms Demand Action, not Florida gun owners.

Meanwhile, Sen. Greg Steube says he has no plans to bring any gun bills forward for the 2018 session.

Still, at least one of his gun-related measures appears to be moving forward in the Florida Senate. It allows firearm dealers to pay for the criminal background checks of potential gun buyers.

And, at least one gun bill is also starting to move in Congress. The U.S. House of Representatives voted recently to make conceal carry permits valid across state lines.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner .

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