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Here’s what’s missing in Florida Legislature’s gun proposals

There are easy ways to get around lawmakers' proposals on age limits, background checks and bump stocks.
AR-15 style guns are displayed at the In Guns We Trust LLC booth during the Tampa Gun Show on Saturday. Legislation being considered in Tallahassee still won't close the loophole that exempts background checks at gun shows. [CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times]
AR-15 style guns are displayed at the In Guns We Trust LLC booth during the Tampa Gun Show on Saturday. Legislation being considered in Tallahassee still won't close the loophole that exempts background checks at gun shows. [CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Feb. 27, 2018|Updated Feb. 28, 2018

Republicans in Florida's Legislature find themselves in an usual spot.
They have to appease both the public, which expresses rising support for stricter gun control, and the gun-rights supporters that they've traditionally served.

So for the first time in decades, Republican leadership is supporting several gun-control measures that are loathed by the National Rifle Association.

But those measures still have gaping loopholes, and lawmakers aren't even addressing other topics, like a ban on high-capacity magazines.

"Some of the loopholes in this bill are large enough to drive a truck through," state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said during a committee Monday.

He's not wrong.

Proposal: Age limits to buy a gun
Loophole: They don't apply to private-party sales

Lawmakers want to increase the minimum age that someone can buy a rifle to 21, matching the age to buy a handgun.

Well, it only applies to people who buy from a licensed dealer. People who buy from another person, or who buy from a gun show, don't have to be 21.
Even the NRA's lobbyist, Marion Hammer, noted that the age limit wouldn't have prevented 19-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter from getting a gun.

It's a big loophole, but just how big is unknown. There is no good data on the number of private-party sales each year, although one 2017 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine estimated that roughly one in five gun sales were private.

There is little chance that this loophole will be closed by Florida lawmakers this year, either.

State Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, the House bill sponsor, said that he had no interest in meddling in private-party sales.

"I don't think that those are loopholes in the bill," Oliva said Tuesday. "That is a part of gun ownership, which many law enforcement officers would tell you is unenforceable."

Proposal: Stronger background checks
Loophole: They don't apply to private-party sales

Like the age limit, person-to-person gun sales don't have to go through background checks in Florida.

Often called the "gun show loophole," because sales at gun shows are often exempt from background checks, it's one of the most controversial loopholes in the gun debate.

None of the legislation this year closes it. Not that that's unusual.

Former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston proposed closing the gun show loophole for 16 years and it was never given a hearing, her daughter, Laurie Rich Levinson, a member of the Broward County school board, told a House committee Tuesday.

"You have to close every loophole that exists so they can't get their hands on guns," Levinson said. "If you're serious about it, it has to be across the board."

But Oliva, the House sponsor, again said he didn't feel it was right to interfere in private-party sales.

"That the state would get in the middle of that … I feel, would be a tremendous infringement on a right," Oliva said.

Proposal: Petitioning judges to have someone's guns taken away
Loophole: Only police can do it

Gov. Rick Scott and leaders in the Senate are basically in agreement over a new program that would allow someone to petition a judge to take away someone's guns.

But they don't agree on an important question: Who should be allowed to file the petition?

Scott believes that family members, "community welfare experts" and police should be able to do it. The Senate plan says it should only be police. (The House doesn't have this provision in its bill, but it is expected to.)

Five states have similar "gun restraining order" laws, and Scott's proposals most closely aligns with them.

Of all the gun proposals in filed during this year's legislative session, gun-control advocates feel that this one would have the biggest impact on preventing gun-related homicides and suicides.

For people in crisis, it could be a convenient way to temporarily take away someone's guns without Baker acting or arresting them. After a few weeks, the judge holds a hearing to evaluate whether the person's guns should be returned.

Proposal: Banning bump stocks
Loophole: The ban doesn't require people to turn in their bump stocks

Both parties, the governor and even President Donald Trump want to ban so-called "bump stocks," the attachments that turn a semi-automatic rifle into a nearly-automatic rifle.

But they differ on whether people who currently have bump stocks should have to turn them in. The House plan says they should. The Senate plan doesn't.

There isn't strong opposition to outlawing the possession of bump stocks, considered a little-used, kitschy hobbyist item. But the Las Vegas shooter was able to use rifles equipped with bump stocks to fire more than 1,000 rounds into a crowd last year, causing the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

On Monday, Rodriguez proposed an amendment that would have outlawed possession, but the National Rifle Association's powerful lobbyist, Marion Hammer, objected.

"If you own a bump stock, you become an automatic felon, because there's no provision in the law, no timeframe, for you to go and turn it in," Hammer said.

The amendment was voted down.

Proposal: Stronger background checks
Loophole: Police aren't told when people lie on background checks

Stronger background checks are great, but they don't stop criminals or the mentally ill from going to a gun store and lying on their background check form. More than 120,000 people failed their checks in 2016, according to FBI data.

Here's the catch, though: While lying on a background check form is a felony, police in Florida aren't told when someone is caught lying.

Not surprisingly, people who lie are rarely caught, and sometimes, they go try to find a gun somewhere else, according to the website The Trace.

At least eight states have tried to fix that, requiring local police to be notified when someone fails a background check, with the idea of stopping a criminal before they can get a gun another way.

But the idea hasn't even been mentioned in Florida's gun debate.

Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this story.


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