Thursday, April 26, 2018
Politics

Guns and Florida: a brief history

The killings of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school last month have led to a renewed debate over access to guns all over America.

In the halls of Florida's Capitol in Tallahassee, gun rights are a perennial political issue, with predictable results.

Few interest groups have had as much consistent success over the past two decades as the National Rifle Association, and history suggests that's not likely to change.

The state's gun culture is deeply ingrained, and the gun lobby has a lot of clout.

Florida has a rural heritage in which generations have grown up hunting squirrels, rabbits and quail.

Obviously, that's not the same as taking a Bushmaster assault weapon into a first-grade classroom.

But the Legislature has not seen fit to curb access to assault weapons and in fact has allowed people with concealed weapons permits to keep guns in their cars at work.

After the massacre in Newtown, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, suggested arming teachers in school for their safety.

In Florida, the rights of gun owners are zealously guarded by Marion Hammer, the long-time lobbyist for the NRA and the Unified Sportsmen of Florida.

For many legislators, an "A" rating by the NRA is a source of great pride.

A brief history of gun legislation in the Legislature tells the story, and the defining moment came in 1987, a time when the Capitol was under Democratic control.

Cities and counties were passing increasingly tough restrictions on access to handguns, but the NRA persuaded Tallahassee to assign that power exclusively to legislators. That single act of pre-emption sealed the NRA's clout.

The 2004 Legislature shielded shooting ranges from liability for environmental cleanups.

The 2005 Legislature passed the so-called "stand your ground" self-defense law cited in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.

The 2007 Legislature made the names of concealed weapons permit holders secret, even though some had criminal records.

The guns-at-work bill was passed in 2008 over strong opposition from businesses, followed by a law prohibiting doctors from asking patients whether they own guns.

In 2010, just when it seemed that the NRA had nothing else to fight for, Hammer pushed for a bill preventing the Legislature from raiding the concealed weapons trust fund to cover budget shortfalls.

Then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist signed the bill and handed an appreciative Hammer a blue pen. (Crist, now a Democrat and a likely candidate for governor, says he favors limits on access to assault weapons like the kind used in Connecticut).

"Marion," Crist said at a 2010 bill-signing ceremony, "I want to thank you for doing so much to protect the Second Amendment."

Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

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