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  1. Florida Politics

Bousquet: Democrats' call for special session on guns likely going nowhere

Published Jun. 28, 2016

The members of the Florida Legislature are busy running for office so they can keep their jobs in Tallahassee.

Yet that's the last place most of them want to be right now.

Democrats are demanding a special legislative session to propose new gun restrictions in response to the tragedy at the Pulse nightclub.

If Congress won't act, they argue, then the state should, by requiring more extensive background checks for gun buyers and a "no fly, no buy" law to deny firearms to someone who's on a federal terrorist watch list.

Gov. Rick Scott could call a special session. He has made clear where he stands.

"The Second Amendment didn't kill anybody," Scott told CNN five days after a deranged gunman took 49 innocent lives. "This is ISIS. This is evil."

The Legislature could call a session, but the Republican leaders of the state House and Senate both oppose the idea.

So Democrats, including two from Orlando who are running for Congress, will now try to force the issue themselves.

They will probably fail, but they'll get plenty of attention as both sides again stake out familiar positions on guns.

Democrats will deliver a petition with 32 signatures to Secretary of State Ken Detzner today. Within a week, Detzner must poll all 160 lawmakers. Three-fifths of both chambers must agree to a special session — an impossibly high hurdle even if this were not in the heat of a campaign.

One political goal here is apparent: to get Republicans who face tough re-election fights on record opposing new gun restrictions, then use that to hammer them with independent voters.

Even in close proximity to Pulse, the strategy appears doomed to failure.

Rep. Rene Plasencia, an Orlando Republican in his first term in the House, accused the Democrats of "grandstanding" for political gain. He won't support a special session.

"My answer would be no," said Plasencia, 43, a high school teacher and coach who's running for a new term in House District 50, adjacent to his current district, in east Orange and Brevard.

"The Pulse shooting happened in my hometown," Plasencia said. "The last thing we need to do now is to politicize it. We need the facts and more information before we head to Tallahassee and start politicizing an event that should not be politicized."

He said any serious discussion of guns should wait until the next regular session, which begins March 7.

Even if Democrats were to succeed in calling for a special session, it's doubtful their proposals would get enough votes to pass. Florida has a strongly pro-gun Legislature.

The obscure provision in law that allows legislators to petition for a special session has never succeeded.

Three years ago, Democrats petitioned for a special session in an effort to repeal the so-called "stand your ground" law after the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.

The petition failed by a margin of 108 to 47.

A similar result is likely in this case, but it will generate a lot of political fodder for both sides in the upcoming elections.

Plasencia is right: Special session or not, the Pulse tragedy will be a dominant issue in the 2017 session.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com. Follow @stevebousquet.