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Gun control measure misfires

Eight guns displayed on a table in the Florida Senate Monday were aimed at Sen. Howard Forman, sponsor of a bill that would restrict access to assault weapons.

The message was clear _ he was outgunned.

Forman's bill and four other measures that would control access to guns were overwhelmingly defeated by a Senate Commerce Committee dominated by conservative Democrats and Republicans who traditionally oppose gun control.

That action, on a series of 10-4 votes, probably ends all legislative efforts at tighter gun control this year.

Law enforcement officials have often expressed frustration over the Legislature's failure to regulate assault weapons, but none were present at Monday's debate.

Instead, arguments like the one made by Sen. John McKay, R-Bradenton, won the day. "If we take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens," he said, "that would leave them only in the hands of criminals."

The defeated bills would have:

Either prohibited or required licenses for 37 different types of assault weapons, guns like AK-47s and Uzis that can rapidly fire bullets.

Prohibited uncased weapons inside vehicles so they couldn't be easily reached by drivers who become involved in traffic altercations.

Prohibited the sale of weapons to people younger than 21 unless they had parental permission.

Prohibited possession of firearms in publicly owned buildings.

Required anyone selling a weapon at a gun show to be registered with the state Department of Revenue.

Two witnesses had pleaded for lawmakers to do something about the death and injury caused by guns.

David Walters, former U. S. ambassador to the Vatican, urged the committee to pass Sen. Ron Silver's bill to make it harder for drivers to get their hands on a gun. Walters said his grandson was killed in a Miami shopping center parking lot during a dispute with another driver.

"This thing with guns and cars has gotten out of hand," he said. "It happens time after time. It's not criminals shooting each other; it's people with short tempers."

Dr. Lonnie Draper, a trauma surgeon from Miami, urged passage of the assault weapon bill, noting that the guns are designed for military organizations to inflict the maximum amount of damage on human beings. They have no place on Florida streets, he said. "Some can put 30 bullets in a person in 15 to 20 seconds."

On the other side was Marion Hammer, lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, who said any ban on assault weapons "would require law-abiding people to surrender their guns."

Hammer defended the rights of gun owners to protect themselves and said any requirement that they buy licenses or register with the state was simply an attempt to make people pay more money to exercise their rights.

While the House still could address gun control, Speaker Bo Johnson isn't likely to do so, said Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, as he watched Forman's bill defeated.

Johnson "is not anxious to take up an issue once the Senate makes a statement like this," Klein said. "We have a lot of other important issues where our time might be better spent."

Klein said he does believe there is public support for limiting access to assault weapons, and he predicted a constitutional amendment to control them might win voter approval.