TALLAHASSEE — Amid mass shootings in Maine and Ybor City, Florida Democrats filed bills last week that seek to expand rules regarding the storage of firearms and discharging guns in residential areas.
The proposals bring to 16 the number of gun-related measures so far submitted for the 2024 legislative session that begins Jan. 9, but it’s unlikely the bills will gain traction.
Democrats, outstripped by Republicans in both the House and Senate, have filed all but three of the bills.
Two of the measures were filed following a mass shooting on Wednesday in Lewiston, Maine, where 18 people were killed and 13 other people were injured by a National Guard reservist who later took his own life, according to law enforcement officials.
One of the bills filed by Democrats last week (SB 270) would make it a crime to recreationally fire a gun in an area that has a residential density of 1.25 or more acres per dwelling unit and the bullets don’t remain within the boundaries of the property.
The other proposal (HB 291) is a far-reaching measure that, in part, would require gun owners to keep firearms in a “securely locked box” when not carrying them, in an effort to ensure a prohibited user such as a child doesn’t gain access to the weapons.
Florida House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell said that events like the mass shooting in rural Maine should not be accepted as normal.
“We need to address this issue head-on and advocate for common-sense gun safety legislation that can help save lives,” Driskell, D-Tampa, said in a statement Friday. “It’s time for our leaders to come together, across party lines, and prioritize the safety and well-being of our communities. We owe it to the victims and their families to do everything in our power to prevent future acts of gun violence.”
Democrats’ latest round of gun-related proposals come after Republicans earlier this year advanced a bill that allows Floridians to carry guns without the need for a concealed-weapons license. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the law in April.
DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination in the 2024 race for president, has addressed the gun issue in recent days as he made the rounds on national news programs as part of his campaign.
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” show on Sunday, DeSantis again took aim at “red-flag” laws such as a provision included in a sweeping 2018 Florida school-safety measure passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by then-Gov. Rick Scott following a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. The red-flag system allows law-enforcement officials to confiscate firearms from individuals deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
“I don’t think you would even need a red flag if somebody has a mental, involuntary commitment and adjudication of that nature that usually would go into the system,” DeSantis said. “And that would be on a traditional background check. I mean, I believe in due process. So, I don’t believe in this idea (that) the government can just take someone’s property and then go through due process later.”
At the same time, DeSantis called for more facilities where people with mental health issues can be held.
“I would be more aggressive on some of those fringe people who clearly are demonstrating signs that they’re a major danger to society,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis noted that the Maine gunman had been detained due to mental health issues but was released after a psychiatric evaluation.
“I think this is an example where clearly this is a guy, very well trained, had a lot of skills and then went off his rocker,” DeSantis said. “There was an intervention. But it wasn’t enough. So, I’d like to know, why wasn’t more done? We’ve seen instances throughout the country where there have been a lot of signs where people have maybe been referred, but then they don’t go through with everything.”
Still, DeSantis acknowledged the odds are low that the Legislature will consider repealing the state’s red-flag law next year.
During an appearance on CNN Thursday, the governor said there isn’t an “appetite” by Republicans to overturn the 2018 measure.
DeSantis over the weekend also responded to a shooting early Sunday in Ybor City that left two dead and 18 injured. The governor announced that the state Department of Law Enforcement was “offering all available resources to local law enforcement to respond to this terrible situation.”
But Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, the city’s former police chief, defended security in the area and blamed the deaths on a “proliferation” of firearms.
“Lives lost and others forever changed. To what end?” Castor tweeted. “The Tampa Police Department had 50 officers deployed in the area at the time, so this is not a law enforcement issue. Bad decisions made in a split second and the proliferation of readily available guns are responsible for these almost daily incidents. We can affect one half of this equation.”
Among the gun-related bills backed by Republicans for the upcoming legislative session is a proposal by Rep. Joel Rudman, R- Navarre, that seeks to revise part of the 2018 school-safety law, which established some of the state’s first gun-control restrictions in decades.
In addition to requiring improved school security, the 2018 law also raised the minimum age from 18 to 21 and imposed a three-day waiting period for the purchase of rifles and other long guns. The age and waiting-period requirements already applied to buying handguns, but the National Rifle Association filed a lawsuit challenging the new law, alleging that the restrictions on rifles are unconstitutional. That federal lawsuit remains pending.
Rudman’s measure (HB 17), which thus far lacks a Senate companion, would cap the waiting period for background checks at three days, even if the screenings were still underway by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Prior to the recent spate of shootings, DeSantis also has voiced opposition to regulations restricting “bump stocks,” which are devices that make semi-automatic weapons mimic fully automatic firearms. A ban on bump stocks also was included in the 2018 law.
— By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida