Pasco officials move toward closing 'gun show loophole'

Published Jan. 23, 2013

NEW PORT RICHEY — A divided Pasco County Commission voted Tuesday to move forward with a proposal to require a three-day waiting period and background checks for most firearm purchases at gun shows.

State law requires such regulations at retail gun shops but leaves the rules for gun shows up to the counties. Pasco could soon join a handful of other counties that have closed the so-called "gun show loophole" by imposing the waiting period and background check requirements for most gun sales on any "property open to public access." It would not apply to transactions in which the buyer has a concealed weapons permit.

"It's still hard for me to understand why it would create such a problem," said Commissioner Pat Mulieri. "If I were buying a gun, I wouldn't mind waiting three days and getting my background checked."

The proposed ordinance was not on Tuesday's agenda and was brought up during the public comment portion of the meeting. Commissioners voted 3-2 to bring the topic up for a future public hearing.

Joining Mulieri were Commissioners Kathryn Starkey and Ted Schrader. Commissioners Henry Wilson and Jack Mariano dissented.

GOP state committeeman Bill Bunting told commissioners that gun shows are regularly patrolled by state and federal law enforcement officers.

"Criminals are not going to where there's law enforcement," he said. "Would you go to a gun show if you knew FDLE was there and (federal firearm agents were) there?"

He added: "People have a legal right to sell their firearms. Every time someone gets their foot in the door, they want to take away another right in the Second Amendment."

The proposal has been pushed by the Pasco Democratic Party in the wake of last month's mass shooting in Sandy Hook, Conn., which has also prompted federal officials to look at increased gun control measures.

Pasco Democratic Party chairman Lynn Lindeman ticked off statistics of people with mental health problems or who are felons arrested for crimes with guns.

"This is not an abstract problem," he said. "It's a real and present danger. Allowing firearm purchases without background checks at gun shows places us all in greater danger."

But county GOP vice chairman Jim Mathieu raised a logistical concern: How do you institute a three-day waiting period for two-day gun shows?

"What is (the seller) going to do, mail it to me three days later?" he said.

Voters added a section to the Florida Constitution in 1998 allowing counties to decide whether to expand regulations at gun shows. Pinellas, Hillsborough and Hernando have all adopted such ordinances. After initially warming to the measure, a unanimous Pasco commission rejected the idea in 1999.

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Schrader said he is open to further discussion about the idea, though his focus is curbing the availability of assault weapons.

"No one can legitimately explain to me why someone other than law enforcement or the military would need to have access to those weapons," he said.

Such regulation must come from the state or federal level. Counties in Florida are limited to requiring background checks for most gun sales and imposing waiting periods for handguns.

Starkey also voted to advance the idea, though she warned it wouldn't be a cure-all.

"To me it makes sense to not be selling guns to people with mental issues," Starkey said. "However, I don't think it stops a Sandy Hook or all those things we've been seeing."