Three Pasco commissioners practiced responsible governing Tuesday when they agreed to reconsider whether the county should join the rest of the Tampa Bay region in requiring federal firearm background checks and a three-day waiting period for all guns purchasers at local gun shows and flea markets. Nothing nearly so charitable can be said for two fellow commissioners, Jack Mariano and Henry Wilson, who embraced the same, tired rhetoric from gun rights advocates and hoped to shut down the discussion. Pasco will now have a debate and it's one worth having.
An estimated 40 percent of firearms are sold nationally absent background checks of the purchasers via transactions at gun shows or across the Internet. Licensed dealers are compelled to do criminal background checks of purchases through an FBI database. However, private dealers at gun shows and flea markets are exempt.
In 1998, Florida voters amended the state Constitution to allow individual counties to close that loophole. Eight counties did so – including Pinellas, Hillsborough and Hernando – but 13 years ago Pasco commissioners voted down their own ordinance in the face of strong opposition from gun owners.
The only commissioner still in office from then, Pat Mulieri, said she wants to revisit the issue in the wake of the slaying of 20 children at a Connecticut elementary school last month. President Barack Obama also has called for closing the gun show loophole nationally, but Pasco's Commission shouldn't duck their own responsibilities by avoiding consideration of a local ordinance.
On Tuesday, guns rights advocates attempted to argue that local enforcement would be problematic, questioning how the county can mandate a three-day waiting period on firearm purchases at a two-day gun sale. But that's just subterfuge as other counties have addressed that issue long ago.
GOP State Committeeman Bill Bunting was correct when he told commissioners that private owners have a right to sell their guns. But those vendors do not have the right to sell their wares to felons and others incapable of passing a background check. The sellers can dispose of their guns on consignment through a licensed dealer.
The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives has said a quarter of the vendors at gun shows are private sellers, not licensed dealers. That provides ample access for prohibited buyers to acquire a firearm without a background check or record of the purchase. And, a 2009 New York City-sponsored undercover investigation of gun shows in Ohio, Tennessee and Nevada found nearly three-quarters of the gun sellers skirted federal law. The vendors sold to investigators who volunteered they couldn't pass a background check or else sold the firearm to a third-party who did pass muster in transactions known as straw purchases.
Mulieri, in following the advice of the county attorney, asked for a public hearing on the gun show rules before seeking a formal ordinance. The public input is welcome. Commissioners, however, must be prepared to separate fact from rhetoric and political expedience and they must act in the public's best interests.