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How the bipartisan gun deal in the Senate could affect Florida

The deal struck by a group of U.S. senators is still early, but if passed, it would represent a rare collaboration on gun control.
Jillian Biltz of Seminole places a Sig Sauer MCX556 rifle on a display wall in June 2020 at the Mad Dog Armory guns and ammo store in Largo. A key provision of a bipartisan gun reform deal struck by a group of U.S. senators mirrors an existing Florida “red flag” gun law, passed after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Jillian Biltz of Seminole places a Sig Sauer MCX556 rifle on a display wall in June 2020 at the Mad Dog Armory guns and ammo store in Largo. A key provision of a bipartisan gun reform deal struck by a group of U.S. senators mirrors an existing Florida “red flag” gun law, passed after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2020) ]
Published Jun. 15|Updated Jun. 15

A rare bipartisan gun reform deal struck by a group of U.S. senators following the mass shooting in Texas that killed 21 could bring less change to Florida than other states.

It’s unclear what the bill will look like in its final form, if passed. But as the deal stands now, according to the senators involved, a key provision mirrors an existing Florida “red flag” gun law, passed after the 2018 Parkland school shooting, which killed 17.

The bill also contains more funding for mental health and school security, an idea popular in both red and blue states.

Here’s how some of the ideas in the bill could impact Florida, or how they’re already being implemented.

Related: 'An important first step': Florida lawmakers react to Senate gun safety deal

Red flag laws

If passed, the national bill would include incentives for states to implement red flag laws, which, at minimum, give law enforcement the ability to flag someone who poses a threat and have a judge approve the temporary removal of their guns. The process can be appealed.

Florida passed its own red flag law in 2018 after the Parkland shooting. It has resulted in thousands of guns being confiscated.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chaired the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety commission, said he’d welcome it if the federal government gives states incentives to develop red flag programs, and funding to overcome cost if it’s a barrier.

States with red flag laws already on the books could get federal funding to bolster their existing programs, according to CNN.

But Gualtieri said more should be done to make sure possible threats are caught early. He said he has 40 deputies assigned to a “threat management unit” that investigates and follows up on reports. The Sheriff’s Office handles all the risk protection orders in the county.

“The red flag orders are a tool for threat management, but if you don’t have threat management, you’re providing the tool without the toolbox,” he said.

Warren Ellis, the chairperson and associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said it’s also vital to provide mental health services to people who have their guns removed under red flag laws. Otherwise, he said, such emergency measures could just be postponing when a person harms themselves or others.

“It doesn’t help if all you have is the red flag law without any other sort of intervention,” Ellis said.

“Boyfriend loophole”

On a federal level, domestic abusers can’t have a gun — but that only applies to people convicted of abuse who were married to, had a child with or lived with the abused partner, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

Some gun reform advocates have coined this as the “boyfriend loophole,” and the national bill seeks to change the regulation so anyone convicted of domestic abuse in a relationship, regardless of marriage or residence, won’t be able to own a firearm.

In Florida, like other states, people convicted of felonies already can’t own guns.

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But not all domestic abuse incidents result in felony charges. They can be misdemeanors. Even then, Gualtieri said in Florida there’s a variety of dating violence injunctions that typically require a prohibition against firearm possession.

Gualtieri said it’s hard to tell how the closing of the loophole would or wouldn’t affect Florida until more details are available.

According to the Giffords Law Center, which tracks gun legislation and advocates for reforms, Florida’s law does not require guns to be removed in a case of misdemeanor domestic violence.

Background checks

The proposed bill would require an enhanced federal background check for people under 21 years old buying a gun, though it isn’t immediately clear what that would entail.

“I think that could play a pretty significant role depending on what the actual definition of enhanced means,” Ellis said.

If it’s only longer wait times, Ellis said that doesn’t make a large impact. But he said bolstering the capacity of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System centers to make checks easier, and potentially to include more information about a person’s mental health background, could be useful.

Gualtieri said checking a person’s mental health history would be difficult. He said of the hundreds of thousands of Baker Act uses in Florida, less than 1% result in a judge declaring a person incompetent.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement runs firearm background checks, which are required for all sales from licensed firearm dealers — excluding unlicensed and private sellers.

“While we are aware of the discussions and possible legislation at the federal level, our knowledge on that has been limited to what we’ve seen reported publicly, so we aren’t comfortable discussing that,” department spokesperson Gretl Plessinger said in an email.

The federal deal does not explicitly expand private background checks — though it does say there will be clarifying language about who has to register as a licensed dealer. No additional details about what that means were provided.

What’s not in the bill — but what Florida has done

The Senate’s bipartisan framework does not include any increase to the minimum age required to purchase a firearm. In Florida, the minimum age for a gun purchase was raised to 21 in a bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott.

That provision has been challenged in the courts by the National Rifle Association.

Scott, now a senator, was not one of the 10 Republicans who signed on to the early bipartisan agreement. A spokesperson said he will review the proposal.

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