It’s not perfect or even a done deal. But the vote by Hillsborough County commissioners this week to look into extending the local waiting period for buying a gun reflects that more local officials throughout the nation are listening to the public’s call for sensible gun restrictions even as state legislators and members of Congress remain timid and fearful of the National Rifle Association.
The commission voted 4-1 Wednesday to have the county attorney draft an ordinance that would extend the local waiting period on gun purchases to five days from three. While the state has a three-day waiting period to purchase handguns, the Florida Constitution gives counties the flexibility to extend the waiting period for the purchase of "any firearm" to five days. The five days also is longer than the three-day waiting period that will now apply to the purchase of all guns as part of the school safety bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Friday. The commission will vote on the local five-day proposal after holding a public hearing, which has not been scheduled but could be in May.
This may not have been the starting point for Commissioner Les Miller, who proposed the idea, but he made a meaningful contribution nonetheless. Miller had asked commissioners to give their support to a ban on assault weapons — which the Legislature refused to include in the school safety legislation — and to the repeal of a state statute that prohibits local governments from regulating firearms and ammunition. Those two proposals faced an uphill climb; local bans would likely not pass legal muster, and local officials who violate the law can be punished with a $5,000 fine and removal from office. Such is the power of NRA in Florida, which has used its clout in Tallahassee to drown the voice of government that is closest to the people.
Even though only the waiting period proposal survived, Miller advanced the debate by forcing his colleagues to stake a position. To their credit, Commissioners Al Higginbotham, Victor Crist and Sandy Murman supported his call for the staff to bring back an ordinance. Whether the board ultimately votes to extend the waiting period remains to be seen. Commissioner Stacy White, who voted no on moving forward, seems unswayed, and two commissioners were absent Wednesday.
Still, Miller stood his ground, made his point and came away with something better than what the county already had. He gave moral support to state lawmakers who channeled the public’s call for reasonable gun restrictions in the wake of the 17 shooting deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and were defeated. Miller used what few tools he had in hand to make a difference. The commission should follow his lead and approve this modest step for public safety, and other county commissions throughout Tampa Bay should adopt the five-day waiting period as well.