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A Times Editorial

Florida should pursue more gun control, not less

As the nation still reels from the Tucson shootings and Tampa Bay mourns the deaths of St. Petersburg police officers, now is the moment for sober reflection on the need for serious, reasonable, intellectually honest dialogue about sensible gun control policy. There are powerful voices across the country calling for that conversation, even as most of Washington remains silent. Yet in Florida, state Sen. Greg Evers has shamelessly seized upon this moment of grief to declare the response to gun violence should be more guns on the street. Rational Floridians know better.

Evers, R-Baker, has proposed ill-conceived bills that would inexplicably ban physicians from asking patients about weapons in the home and allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to openly display a gun in public, including at such locales as university campuses. A third needless measure —since the U.S. Supreme Court already has ruled on this issue — has been filed that would ban local governments in Florida from passing their own gun-control legislation.

"It's time we get more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens so they can protect themselves," Evers said following the fatal shootings of police officers in Miami-Dade and St. Petersburg.

Actually, it's time for this nation and this state to stand up to wrongheaded legislators such as Evers and the National Rifle Association and insist on sensible gun control. In Washington, D.C., a laudable but probably ill-fated effort is under way to renew the expired assault weapons ban, which sensibly restricted the sale of 19 forms of automatic weapons and banned the sale of extended magazines of the kind that were used in the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. This commonsense proposal has bipartisan support, but the NRA has it blocked.

Elsewhere, such figures as Boston Mayor Tom Menino, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell have led a coherent, thoughtful discussion on the need to revisit the assault weapons ban. That same conversation is needed in Florida, too. But you won't find it in Tallahassee. Consider the troubling effort by Evers to intrude upon the doctor-patient relationship, which would prohibit a routine inquiry about gun possession by patients.

That sort of information is especially vital in determining the proper prescriptions for medications, which may have deleterious mental and emotional side effects. Yet doctors would risk hefty fines for even raising the subject of guns with their patients. This is not simply bad public policy. It could have horrific public safety consequences, and it intrudes on doctor-patient relationships.

No better thought out is Evers' effort to permit the open display of weapons in public. That would make it easier for simple disputes between people to quickly escalate into deadly confrontations. The widespread, open display of firepower would have a chilling, intimidating effect on simple human discourse and interaction.

With about 780,000 concealed weapons permits issued in the state, Florida has no shortage of armed residents. And year after year, the NRA and state lawmakers have chipped away at reasonable gun-control measures. The gun discussion is always fraught with emotion. But if we are going to have this conversation — and we should — the sort of opportunistic pandering by Evers is not constructive for a serious-minded public policy debate.

Florida should pursue more gun control, not less 01/28/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 29, 2011 8:32pm]
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