Pasco Democrats are urging the county to begin requiring a three-day waiting period and background checks for firearms purchased at gun shows.
State law only requires such regulations at retail gun shops. Closing the so-called "gun show loophole" would include sales in which any part of the transaction occurs on "property open to public access." It would not apply to concealed weapon permit holders.
"This legislation does not take away the rights of gun ownership," county Democratic chairman Lynn Lindeman wrote in a letter to county commissioners. "It helps ensure the safety of our children and communities so that only those legally allowed to possess firearms do so."
Voters added a section to the Florida Constitution in 1998 allowing counties to decide whether to expand regulations at gun shows. Pinellas, Hillsborough and Hernando have all adopted such ordinances. After initially warming to the measure, a unanimous Pasco commission rejected the idea in 1999.
The renewed push from local Democrats comes two weeks after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that prompted a call from President Barack Obama for increased federal gun control.
But it's not clear if commissioners — all of whom are Republicans — want to revisit the issue.
Commissioner Jack Mariano said he is "okay with the way the law's written." Commissioner Henry Wilson asked county staffers to research the issue but said he would be wary of passing more gun restrictions to prevent violence.
"More gun legislation isn't going to stop it," he said. "Most of the (offenders) have chemical abuses or mental issues, and we have to address those."
Other commissioners are more open to the idea. Commissioner Pat Mulieri said in an email that she would support the waiting period and the background checks. "It is a different world we live (in) now than in 1999," she said.
Commissioner Ted Schrader, who describes himself a gun advocate, said he welcomes an "open discussion" about a possible local ordinance.
"The question I would have is why does an individual need to own an assault rifle?" Schrader said, adding his wife has a concealed weapon permit and his sons are avid hunters. "I think that's the real question of the day, and I think it's on the minds of a lot of citizens in the country."
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey was on vacation Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
The measure would have to overcome logistical hurdles, including how to implement a three-day waiting period for gun shows that are often held during a two-day weekend. There's also the question of how private citizens would conduct background checks if they sell guns at a gun show. State officials only conduct checks for licensed gun dealers.
Lindeman called the measure a "no-brainer" and said he hopes a commissioner introduces the idea at next week's meeting. If not, he plans to pitch the idea during the public comment period at a subsequent meeting.
GOP state committeeman Bill Bunting, a longtime gun rights activist, said he doesn't recall a gun show in Pasco in four or five years. (One is scheduled for March 2-3 at the Pasco County Fairgrounds.)
Bunting pointed to the 1999 vote, and said two Democrats who were then on the commission rejected the idea. A more effective move, he said, would be inviting undercover federal firearm agents to look for suspected illegal buyers at gun shows.
"All the Democrats are doing is grandstanding," he said. "They just want to grab headlines."
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.