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Florida's gun madness

On the same day the Brady bill took effect nationwide and the Clinton administration moved to restrict three new types of rapid-fire shotguns, Florida's Legislature sent a gun message of its own. In summarily rejecting six modest gun-control measures, two Senate committees said in effect:

Welcome to Florida, the nation's most violent state. We'll provide the gun.

In fact, the state Senate Commerce Committee action on Monday was so well scripted that the National Rifle Association couldn't have done better itself. Five different measures _ limitations on assault weapons, registration requirements for gun show sales, encasement of guns in cars, limitations on sales to people younger than 21 and prohibition of guns in publicly owned buildings _ were all defeated. And the votes, 10-4 in most cases, weren't even close. Three Tampa Bay area senators, including a former sheriff and a former prosecutor, voted against gun control every single time (see accompanying box) _ and their defense was impossibly stale. Said Sen. John McKay, R-Bradenton: "If we take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens, that would leave them only in the hands of criminals."

With a national poll now suggesting that one in every three children can get a gun within an hour, McKay's remark is quaint at best. The problem with guns is that they are lethal and they are largely unregulated. More than 26,000 people in this nation were murdered by guns last year, yet it is still easier to get a license to sell guns than a license to drive a car. Many children can get a gun easier than a prescription.

In the Senate on Monday, Karen Johnson, D-Inverness, tried to get the Professional Regulation Committee to consider the absurdity of a "private collection" loophole that lets people sell firearms at gun shows without any record of the sale or any background check. She also noted the ease with which dealer licenses are issued, suggesting: "A dog can buy a federal license. A mailbox actually bought a license." But Johnson was shouted down as well. She pulled her bill from the agenda before the committee could formally kill it.

None of the issues considered in the Senate Monday was radical. The assault weapons bill would have placed restrictions on AK-47s and Uzis. Another bill would have required only that people who sell weapons at gun shows register with the state. But the same senators who are caught up in a criminal justice frenzy on violent crime refuse to consider that reasonable regulation of guns could also help. Their hypocrisy is simply stunning.

Even the U.S. Congress, which also has been paralyzed politically by the NRA, managed to adopt the Brady bill waiting-period for the purchase of handguns. Clearly, the public is demanding a more sensible approach. In Florida, the last time voters were given an opportunity to express their opinion, in a 1990 initiative providing for a 3-day waiting period, they approved gun control by a margin of more than 5-to-1.

Some Florida lawmakers don't seem to care, though. Maybe they just want NRA campaign contributions; maybe they truly believe the simple slogans. But the nation is changing around them. Gun deaths are epidemic, and people are looking for new answers. Florida's Senate is providing none.

They said No

to gun control:

On a state Senate committee Monday that killed five modest gun-control measures, including limitations on AK-47s and Uzis, three Tampa Bay area senators voted all five times against gun control. They are: Malcolm Beard, R-Seffner (Tallahassee office number: 904-487-5072); John Grant, R-Tampa (904-487-5068); and John McKay, R-Bradenton (904-487-5078). Call and ask them why.