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Another shot falls short; gun owners expect more

Hunters in Florida may have dodged the latest gun-control bullet, but Larry Skidmore knows it's only a matter of time before their right to bear arms is challenged again.

The latest scrape involved a pair of companion bills in the state House and Senate that called for a ban on assault weapons. Included in that definition were all semiautomatic weapons that fire consecutive rounds of ammunition.

Taking destructive weapons off the streets was the intent behind a House bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton. But while such legislation is always aimed at criminals, law-abiding gun owners usually get caught in the crossfire.

Falling into the semiautomatic category are many of the shotguns and rifles used by hunters and by citizens as a means of self-defense.

"That included double-action revolvers and automatic shotguns, so it was foolish," said Skidmore, a Citrus County sheriff's deputy and owner of Skidmore's Sports Supply in Crystal River, one of the largest hunting retail shops on the North Suncoast.

"Some of these politicians are going overboard and it's going to backfire on them. The guys out here buying guns from me and people like me are law-abiding citizens, not the ones we have trouble with. The big trouble right now is buying guns illegally on the street or at gun shows where people are not gun dealers, where there's no paper trail or background checks."

The bill initially called for all semiautomatic weapons to be surrendered or rendered inoperable by their owners. But after initial opposition to the absolute stance, Klein watered it down with a grandfather clause allowing Floridians who already own such a weapon to keep it for a $200 licensing fee.

But that wasn't enough.

During a three-day span, more than 400 people signed a petition to oppose the bill. Those names, along with many others, were carried to Tallahassee on Feb. 12, when more than 3,500 demonstrators converged on the capital to protest the bill, which had passed by a 9-7 vote in the House Criminal Justice Committee.

"This is aimed at the criminals, but it always hits the honest voting citizens," Skidmore said. "Criminals, they don't even vote. They don't sign up to vote. I just don't know about these politicians."

In the month-long uproar, Klein, the bill's author, became the focus of much of the demonstrators' anger, receiving hundreds of calls and letters.

Klein called time out on his bill, awaiting the vote of the Senate Commerce Committee on a bill that mirrored his own. On Monday, the Senate committee, dominated by conservative Democrats and Republicans who traditionally oppose gun control, voted 10-4 against.

So it appears the battle is over. But the war likely isn't.

Skidmore wouldn't be surprised to hear about stirrings of another gun-control measure within a matter of months. And that may not be bad news. Skidmore said most responsible gun owners would lobby for an effective law.

"The main things they need to propose, and I think the (National Rifle Association) would be for it too, is if somebody buys a gun, let them have the check, make sure he's not a criminal and hasn't been in a mental hospital.

"Nothing's going to stop people from breaking and entering and stealing a gun. But they can have some of these laws set up so that when people sell a gun there has to be some kind of paper trail."