Assault weapons ban rejected in Hillsborough, but it may take longer to buy a handgun

Published March 7 2018
Updated March 7 2018

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday said no to banning the sale of assault-style weapons, but they may be willing to extend the waiting period to purchase a handgun.

Commissioner Les Miller made an impassioned pitch for his colleagues to take up his assault weapons ban. He talked about the AR-15 rifle — how it has been used in mass shootings across the country, most recently to kill 17 at a school in Parkland, and how it compares to the firearms he trained with while in the Air Force.

"I’m not trying to take away anyone’s right to bear arms," Miller said, before adding, "These weapons are used in war."

But a local ban likely wouldn’t pass legal muster; the state prohibits municipalities from passing most firearms restrictions. Public officials who violate the law can be punished with a $5,000 fine and removal from office.

When Miller made the motion to introduce an assault weapons ban, he was met with crickets. And it died without discussion.

Miller was more successful in garnering support for extending the waiting period on gun purchases from three days to five days. The state Constitution mandates a three-day waiting period on handgun purchases and allows counties the flexibility to make it five days.

In a 4-1 vote, commissioners asked the county attorney’s office to draft an ordinance to do just that. The board will vote on the proposed ordinance at a future meeting, after a public hearing.

Miller was supported by Commissioners Victor Crist, Al Higginbotham and Sandy Murman.

Commissioner Stacy White voted no. Commissioners Pat Kemp and Ken Hagan were absent.

Crist, who grew up in the Middle East, regaled the audience with a tale of witnessing an assassination attempt on his father thwarted by a knife. He said that encounter informed his position on whether to restrict people from buying weapons.

"Bad people are everywhere, Commissioner Miller," Crist said, "and if we disarm the good people, then we can’t defend ourselves with the bad people."

However, Crist said he didn’t have similar qualms about extending the waiting period.

White asked County Attorney Chip Fletcher what the waiting period is in Broward County, the home of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the site of last month’s deadly shooting. It’s five days, Fletcher responded.

"This was an unthinkable act. Clearly, as we address this issues, solutions have to be comprehensive in nature," White said. "Clearly, policy framework that called for a five-day waiting period was ineffective in Broward County."

Commissioners also decided to review how to punish people who make threats against schools.

Under a 2011 state law, the governor can remove from office local politicians or officials if a court determines there was a "knowing and willful" violation of the state prohibition on local gun restrictions. Gov. Rick Scott’s office said earlier this week that he would review whether to remove Hills­borough commissioners if they passed such an ordinance.

Miller said he was willing to risk a fine and removal from office, even if only to take a symbolic stand against military-style weapons and rally support for a statewide ban. Lawmakers in Tallahassee already rejected a similar proposal, and instead approved legislation to arm some school personnel, add school resource officers, increase the age to purchase a gun, ban bump stocks and expand the three-day waiting period on handguns to include all rifles and shotguns.

Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected] or
(813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.