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Florida bills designed to promote gun safety and loosen gun restrictions are back before the legislative session

Clermont Rep. Anthony Sabatini has several bills designed to loosen gun restrictions. The proposals go further than Florida's Republican leaders have so far been willing to go since the Parkland school shooting.
Clermont Rep. Anthony Sabatini has several bills designed to loosen gun restrictions. The proposals go further than Florida's Republican leaders have so far been willing to go since the Parkland school shooting.

Democrats seeking to curb gun violence face headwinds in the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. On the flipside, Republican proposals seeking to loosen gun restrictions may also face pushback.

South Florida Democrats took part last week in a virtual roundtable about gun safety legislation. “People often ask whether Congress is doing enough, whether the White House is doing enough, whether our state governments have done enough,” said Congressman Ted Deutch, who hosted the online discussion with local and state leaders as well as activists. “The answer to that question is no, undeniably no. Nobody has done or is doing enough.”

For the 4th year, Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, is trying to pass a law that requires the safe storage of firearms to help keep them away from kids. “I naively thought this should be a fairly easy step to take when I entered the legislature four years ago,” Polsky said. “We're not taking anyone's guns -- just requiring you to do the responsible thing.”

Another proposal would ban ghost guns, firearms that can be pieced together by amateurs at home. “This is really important because this is a case where now our technology has kind of outgrown our laws,” said Christine Hunschofsky, D-Coconut Creek. Her district includes Parkland, and she was the city's the mayor when the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School happened in 2018. While the gun used by the shooter was purchased legally, other school shootings have been carried out using ghost guns.

“Someone can go online right now, buy an 80% finished firearm. They can be told how to pay for it with cash so it can't be traced. This firearm kit will be sent to them,” Hunschoksky said. “They will have all the tools to assemble it, and now they will have a firearm that they didn't need a background check for -- and that is untraceable because it has no serial number.”

Advocates are also promoting background checks for anyone buying ammunition. A proposal called Jaime's Law is named for 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg, a victim of the Parkland shooting.

“If we want to do something to reduce gun violence, to reduce the risks of gun violence, to reduce the casualties of gun violence, let's make it harder for those who intend harm to buy the ammunition to do so,” said Fred Guttenberg, who became a gun control activist after his daughter’s murder.

After the shooting in Parkland, the GOP-controlled legislature took action on guns, like banning bump stocks. These devices can enable a semiautomatic firearm to fire bullets more rapidly. There’s now a federal ban on bump stocks.

The legislature also set up a means for keeping guns away from anyone deemed to be a threat to themselves or others, and it raised the age to buy guns from 18 to 21. The NRA sued over the age increase, and the case is being considered by an appeals court.

In contrast to those moves by the legislature and proposals filed by Democrats, an effort by Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Clermont, would significantly reduce gun restrictions. “I'm always gonna fight for pro-Second Amendment legislation,” Sabatini told the News Service of Florida. “We’ve got to make sure people are able to access firearms when they want for their own self-defense, and that means anywhere they go.”

Sabatini has tried for years to relax Florida’s gun laws. But even Republicans have been loath to go as far as Sabatini wants, especially in an election year. One of his proposals would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to be armed at legislative meetings.

“Some of these government meetings, the way I think some people in politics are today, they're kind of dangerous places,” Sabatini said. “So it's just irresponsible that (people) can't defend themselves in a place where there's a lot of hostile tension and really dangerous people gathering. So it's really a self-defensive maneuver if you ask me.”

Sabatini has another bill that would allow guns on college campuses. That effort has repeatedly been thwarted by former Florida State University president John Thrasher, who is also a former Speaker of the Florida House and a former Republican state senator. Thrasher noted his opposition during his final FSU State of the University address before he retired last year.

“I want to make the pledge to you one more time that I’ve made every year – that I will continue to fight any kind of campus carry legislation,” Thrasher said. “We’ve all experienced enough heartache to know that more guns on campus do not make us safer.”

Sabatini also wants to lower the purchase age for guns back to 18. “Dangerous criminals are always going to find access to firearms, and they're always going to be able to use those firearms to break the law,” Sabatini said. “The question for us should be, how do we equip safe, law abiding, constitutional loving Americans with firearms? How do we make sure those people can defend themselves?”

The broadest of Sabatini’s proposals would get rid of the state’s concealed weapons permit and allow firearms in more places. The group Gun Owners of America posted a video with Sabatini outside the Florida Capitol last September promoting the legislation that is now in place in 21 states.

“Constitutional carry -- that's open carry and permitless carry. You should not have to ask the government for permission before you carry a firearm for your own self-defense, and you should be able to carry openly,” Sabatini says in the video. “The spineless RINO (Republican In Name Only) Republicans need to co-sponsor this bill and pass this thing. No more lying to the American people about being strong on the Second Amendment.”

The Suwannee County Republican Party recently passed a resolution backing the Constitutional Carry bill.

Governor Ron DeSantis was asked last month whether he would sign constitutional carry legislation if it landed on his desk. The National Association for Gun Rights posted a video showing the question being asked during a reception at the Governor’s Mansion. DeSantis’ two-word response was “of course.”

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Gina Jordan