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Hopes dim for gun control measures in Florida Legislature

A bill to close the ‘gun show loophole’ has stalled and leaders don’t appear optimistic.
Florida Senator Tom Lee, R- Thonotosassa. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times] [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
Florida Senator Tom Lee, R- Thonotosassa. [SCOTT KEELER | Times] [SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES]
Published Feb. 13

A bill that would close Florida’s so-called “gun show loophole” is in trouble.

Halfway through this year’s legislative session, the bill has stalled, and key lawmakers aren’t sounding optimistic it will be heard again.

“It is very clear that it is an uphill battle,” said Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who supports the bill.

Blame election-year politics in Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature. GOP lawmakers have focused on churning out bills meant to fire up their base, including controversial measures limiting abortion and cracking down on companies hiring undocumented people.

Taking up a controversial gun-control measure is not one of their priorities, said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, who is sponsoring the bill.

“Is that a piece of legislation that Republican legislators would just soon go away?" Lee said. “Oh, duh, of course it is.”

In the wake of back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, last year Galvano asked Lee to come up with a bill to make the state safer, including potential limits on guns.

Lee and his committee came back with Senate Bill 7028, which would close the “gun show loophole” by requiring all sales at gun shows go through a background check. Currently, private-party sales at gun shows are not required to go through background checks.

For all other private-party sales, both the buyer and seller would have to fill out a form that’s notarized attesting the buyer is legally allowed to buy the weapon.

While the changes are relatively modest compared to the gun-control measures passed by the Legislature following the 2018 Parkland shooting, this year’s bill was quickly denounced by the National Rifle Association’s top lobbyist as “gun control on steroids.”

So far, the bill has passed only one committee — Lee’s committee — with two more to go. The next stop is in the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

Galvano said Wednesday he had “great faith” in how Simmons “looks at these issues.” When Simmons was asked whether he would allow the bill to be heard, however, he was noncommittal.

“I have not sat down with my staff and I’ve not made a decision,” he said.

One of the main obstacles is Florida House Speaker José Oliva, who does not support the gun control measures in the bill. Another is likely Gov. Ron DeSantis, an ardent Second Amendment supporter. Lee said he hasn’t spoken with the governor about the bill.

With the session scheduled to end March 13, Lee said time is running out.

“It’s going to take some pretty high-level conversations to break it loose and get something done this session,” Lee said. “Every week that goes by it’s a little harder to broker a solution or agreement with the House.”

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