Over NRA’s objections, Florida Senate committee passes bill closing ‘gun show loophole’

The NRA’s top lobbyist called it “nothing less than gun control on steroids.”
NRA Lobbyist Marion Hammer, attends a Florida Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee meeting in Tallahassee, Monday, January 13, 2020.
NRA Lobbyist Marion Hammer, attends a Florida Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee meeting in Tallahassee, Monday, January 13, 2020. [ Times (2020) ]
Published Jan. 13, 2020

A Republican-led Florida Senate committee passed a bill that would close the so-called “gun show loophole” but still allow most private-party gun sales to take place without background checks.

The bill passed over the strong objections of the National Rifle Association’s top lobbyist, who called it “nothing less than gun control on steroids."

“This committee bill is our best effort to try to improve public safety on the margins here,” said committee chairman Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa. “It is not a perfect system.”

It would essentially operate on the honor system. Senate Bill 7028 would not require background checks for all person-to-person sales, which make up an estimated 20 percent of all gun sales, according to the Senate committee’s analysis.

Instead, when selling a gun to another individual, the seller would be required to check the person’s ID to make sure they’re legally allowed to own the weapon and fill out a form recording the transaction.

The form would include a list of questions for the buyer, such as whether they’re a felon, a fugitive from justice, or have anything else in their history that would prevent them from owning a gun.

RELATED: Better gun background checks ‘makes sense,’ key Florida Republican says

The seller would then confirm that they have “no knowledge or reason to believe that the purchaser is of unsound mind.”

The form would have to be witnessed and signed by a notary public, but the bill doesn’t require the seller to do anything with the form.

Lee said it would be in the seller’s “best interests” to hold on to the form indefinitely, “should this weapon ultimately get used in the commission of a crime.”

Not filling out the forms would be a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail.

The bill also requires any private-party sales at “public places” — in other words, gun shows — go through a background check. Lee said the seller would go to one of of the licensed gun dealers at the show to conduct the background check, for a fee.

The NRA’s longtime Florida lobbyist, Marion Hammer, said “a vote for this bill is a vote for massive gun control.”

“It appears to be an actual attempt to ban private sales through red tape and fear,” Hammer said. “Asking average citizens to create what amounts to a government form and get it notarized is ridiculous.”

Moments later, Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, walked out of the committee room and did not vote on the bill. All other senators voted in favor of it.

Afterward, Lee said the bill was an attempt to enact gun control “in the least onerous and burdensome way to gun-owners.”

“I empathize that any time somebody breaks the law, we come in and pass something, and law-abiding citizens are imposed upon. i get it,” he said. “But we have a job to do. We can’t just sit by idly while our children are killing children and pretend this isn’t happening.”

More than a dozen members of the gun-control group Moms Demand Action were in the room, supportive of the bill but wishing it required all sales to go through background checks.

“I like that they’re making an attempt to close these loopholes at gun shows,” said Kate Kile, the leader of the organization’s Tallahassee chapter. “It’s a great first step.”

Two years ago, any sort of gun control laws were unthinkable in Florida’s capital, which has been in GOP control for more than two decades. Then the Parkland massacre happened in the middle of the 2018 legislative session.

Shocked into action, lawmakers reacted quickly, passing laws that raised the minimum age for owning a weapon to 21, imposed a three-day waiting period for gun purchases and allowed for police to seize someone’s firearms.

But mass shootings have continued, and after back-to-back shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in August, Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, called for more action.

RELATED: ’Nothing’s off the table,’ Florida senator says on potential gun reforms

Galvano mentioned expanding background checks, additional school safety measures and addressing “white nationalism.”

“Unfortunately, the evil acts of violence over the weekend are an all-too-present reminder that we have work to do,” Galvano wrote to senators in August.

On Monday, Lee’s committee also passed a resolution denouncing white nationalism.

Lee said the bill has Galvano’s support. But even with his support, the bill will have a tough time becoming law.

It must pass the House and avoid Gov. Ron DeSantis’ veto pen. House Speaker José Oliva has not come out in support of new gun regulation, and Gov. Ron DeSantis, a staunch Second Amendment supporter, campaigned in 2018 saying that he would have vetoed the Legislature’s 2018 Parkland legislation.

The bill also:

  • Requires that loaded firearms be securely stored to prevent anyone under the age of 18 from accessing them. The current age in the law is 16. The penalty is still a second-degree misdemeanor, carrying up to 60 days in jail.
  • Requires that loaded firearms also be kept securely stored to prevent anyone of “unsound mind” from accessing them. The penalty is also second-degree misdemeanor.
  • Requires paramedics and other emergency medical workers to report to police people who are a danger to themselves or the public. The provision currently exists for mental health workers.
  • Assigns the Florida Department of Law Enforcement with creating a statewide “threat assessment” system to prevent active shooters and assigns the department 37 full-time positions and nearly $6 million.

A separate bill, Senate Bill 7030, passed by the committee Monday would make most of the threat assessment system records secret.