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Firearm safety sputters in Capitol

Published Sep. 27, 2005

Bet you missed the Mother's Day march for gun control. Too busy unwrapping hand-painted flower pots, shuttling kids to Sunday school, eating brunch and doing the myriad other things moms cram into a day.

You might have felt guilty, given the rash of gun violence that hit Carrollwood this past week. It could have been any of our daughters behind the counter at the Loop, anyone's son driving for Windy City Pizza.

So, assuming that easy access to handguns is at least one factor in our nation's level of gun violence, let's look at the recent record of our elected officials. What did our state lawmakers do this spring to keep guns away from our children?

Not much.

Schools were made a bit safer by post-Columbine measures that, for example, let them suspend a student without jeopardizing their rank in the state's A-F grading system. And lawmakers agreed that armed juvenile offenders should generally be prosecuted as adults _ even though Florida already is notorious for sending kids into the adult system, where they are even less likely to be rehabilitated.

That particular bill was sponsored by Victor Crist, R-Tampa Palms, who is running for Senate and enjoys strong support among law enforcement. Gus Bilirakis (R-Palm Harbor), Rob Wallace (R-Carrollwood), Ken Littlefield (R-Dade City) and Bob Henriquez (D-Town 'N Country) all voted yes to it, as did Sen. John Grant (R-Carrollwood) in the Senate.

But where were they when their colleagues asked for a comprehensive "Children's Firearm Responsibility Act"? Or a narrower law that would stop visitors from bringing concealed weapons into hospitals, schools and courthouses? Or to make it harder to use out-of-state gun licenses in Florida?


Grant, in fact, was downright obstructionist in his treatment of a bill that would require locks on guns that are stored where children live.

He refused to place the "trigger lock" bill on the agenda of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chaired, saying the matter was not a top priority for him. He later offered to support it if the Democrats backed his effort to strengthen car seat belt laws.

Neither trigger locks nor traffic stops for seat belt violations survived the session.

Grant, who is leaving because of term limits, made a little joke about the trigger lock issue. "Next year it will be first on my agenda," he said.

Quite a dismal record for a group who, as mentioned earlier, had their names all over bills to congratulate fellow politicians, celebrate ethnic holidays and name football fields after coaches who already get way too much adulation.

When asked for comment, Bilirakis declared that he is "a defender of the Second Amendment," believing that "people should have the right to bear arms" but "if it (gun control) will protect children, we should have it." A proponent of five-day waiting periods, Bilirakis pleaded his junior status: He wasn't on the committees that could have moved gun control measures ahead.

Wallace said he voted against at least one floor amendment that would have resulted in locked guns behind locked cabinets. "You're trying to balance safety against your need to get at it for self-defense," he said.

He thinks punishment is the answer, which is why he voted for the adult sanctions for juveniles. He compares gun control to mandatory swimming pool fences, which he also has consistently voted against.

"You're trying to impose restrictions on everybody, but what is the potential that it will do somebody some real good by saving lives?" he said. "You just can't legislate everything that might go wrong."

Henriquez had this to say: "There were a lot of bills that I was in agreement with, even though I didn't sponsor them." He said he voted for floor amendments on gun safety and generally "took a more reasoned approach" than his ultra-liberal Democratic colleagues.

"You have to weigh the political side and what is the reality," Henriquez said. "We would probably be better off having a group study the issue, see what's on the books, and enforcement of what we have. If we keep treating this as a political issue, we're not going to get anywhere."

We hope to hear from Crist, Grant and Littlefield at a later date.

Remember that while the session is over, we're just a few months away from deciding whether to give most of these men another shot at leadership. Grant has landed himself a nice state job, but there's nothing to stop him from getting back into politics later on.

Maybe it's true, as Henriquez says, that this year's political leadership made gun control initiatives a big exercise in futility.

But give credit to those, like the marchers, who tried.