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Amendment would help catch felons, mentally ill who try to buy guns

More than 26,000 people in Florida were rejected by the state's background check system the last two years.
Hundreds of Blake High School students and community activists marched down N Boulevard Friday to address the inaction of lawmakers on gun violence in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. [MONICA HERNDON  |  Times]
Hundreds of Blake High School students and community activists marched down N Boulevard Friday to address the inaction of lawmakers on gun violence in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Mar. 2, 2018
Updated Mar. 2, 2018

In the last two years, nearly 8,500 felons, 1,600 people with active warrants for their arrest and 2,400 domestic violence abusers tried to buy guns at Florida gun stores.

They were all caught by the state's background check system.

But whether they faced justice for lying about their past on their background check forms is another issue. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, unlike some other states, does not automatically report to local police the people who lie on the forms.

With the gun debate raging in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland and the Senate set to take up a wide-ranging gun bill in response to it today, state Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, wants to change that. On Wednesday, she filed an amendment to the gun bill that would require FDLE to tell local police and sheriffs when someone fails a background check.

It's a simple solution that some states have already adopted. Taddeo said she was surprised to learn that when someone fails a background check, police seldom follow up – but that's not necessarily their fault.

"If we're being critical of law enforcement, we need to make sure they're given all the tools," she said.

When someone tries to buy a gun from a licensed dealer, they have to fill out a three-page ATF form. The form requires people to answer whether they're a felon, a fugitive or "adjudicated mentally defective."

But if someone is rejected for being a felon, it can be deduced that the person lied about being a felon on the form. From there, police can follow up and make sure the person didn't go buy a gun from a private seller, which does not require a background check.

Over the last two years, the state ran 1.7 million gun background checks. Just over 26,000 – less than 2 percent – were rejected, according to FDLE statistics.

Those 26,000 include 1,759 people rejected for mental health-related issues, 1,137 non-citizens and 25 people dishonorably discharged from the military.

But FDLE said that while it tells the FBI about some people who fail, the agency apparently doesn't tell local police.

Nationally, people are almost never charged, and there's no reason to believe Florida is different. In 2010, data showed that of the 80,000 or so whose failed their federal background checks, only 44 were charged with a crime, according to the New York Times.

Galvano, the Senate bill sponsor, did not give an opinion on the amendment, one of dozens that have been filed to his bill. But he said he was "positive" about it. R-Bradenton

"At the core of the idea, we want to make sure if someone's a problem, we have someone checking in on them, because that's the problem we had in Parkland," Galvano said.