Until Congress stands up to the National Rifle Association and requires the universal background checks for gun sales that are supported by most Americans, the least state and local officials can do is enforce the laws on the books. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri gets that. Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee does not.
Gualtieri informed the organizer of a gun show at Minnreg Hall in Largo this weekend that the sheriff's office will be enforcing a long-ignored county ordinance that requires all gun show sellers — not just federally licensed dealers — to conduct background checks on all purchasers. The sheriff attached a March memo from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms explaining how non-licensed sellers could work through licensed dealers to conduct background checks.
But in Hillsborough, Gee's office continues to show no interest in enforcing a similar ordinance aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of illegal buyers such as criminals and the mentally ill.
Gualtieri's effort comes roughly a month after the Tampa Bay Times found that law enforcement authorities in seven counties that account for nearly half the state's population were failing to enforce local ordinances requiring background checks on all gun show purchases. Some had even forgotten they existed.
The ordinances had been embraced in the aftermath of Hank Earl Carr's 1998 rampage through Tampa that left three law enforcement officers and a 4-year-old boy dead. A felon, Carr nonetheless had been able to purchase a stockpile of firearms. A 1998 amendment to the state Constitution approved by 72 percent of the voters paved the way for the local governments to enact the tougher gun-buying restrictions for gun shows.
Dealers and sellers have argued that requiring background checks at gun shows would be too cumbersome, and some law enforcement officials have suggested they don't have the manpower to enforce the laws. But Gualtieri is now challenging those convenient excuses by signaling he will make the effort to ensure the background requirements are enforced.
Hillsborough voters should be able to expect the same from Gee. A nationwide universal background check requirement remains ideal. But Gee should join Gualtieri in doing what he can to ensure Hillsborough's gun shows aren't just an easy forum for criminals and the mentally unstable to obtain the guns they have no legal right to own.