Dems look to close loophole that allows guns in public buildings

Jan 11, 2012

Lawmakers are trying to fix a loophole in the state’s current gun law. For instance, though someone can’t carry a gun into a government meeting, they can carry a gun into the building where that meeting is held. But, now as Sascha Cordner reports, there’s a new bill that would change all that.

Under Florida’s current gun law, cities and counties within the state must repeal their local gun ordinance laws or face a penalty of about $5,000.

Republican Representative Matt Gaetz of Shalimar says the reason behind the law that he helped to create was to make sure there weren’t different sets of gun regulations all throughout Florida.

“We wouldn’t have one set of rules in Palm Beach County and a different set of rules in Broward County, and so as long as we have uniform standards, then the Legislature can make the decision about where it’s appropriate to have firearms.”

But, after Governor Rick Scott signed Gaetz’s bill into law last year, some Florida lawmakers, like Representative Lori Berman, say they found a huge glitch in Florida’s gun control laws.

Even though people can’t carry a gun into meetings, they can still walk into the building where that meeting is held with a loaded gun.

“You’re not allowed to carry a gun right now into a Legislative Committee meeting, you’re not allowed to carry a gun into the Legislature, but you can walk in this building [with a gun], so that’s where the glitch is. The same thing is you can’t have guns in county meetings, but you can bring it into the building. So,  I think that’s where the glitch part of this is. If you’re going to cover the meetings, you should be covering the buildings also.”

That’s why both she and Democratic Senator Maria Sachs of Delray Beach filed a bill that would be all encompassing and make sure to include not only meetings, but the buildings as well.

The bill would also make sure gun owners are provided a list of places where they can carry their gun because according to Palm Beach County Commission Chair Shelley Vana, not everyone is aware. She says she knows Floridians want to be responsible gun owners and not knowing is a danger to the public’s safety.

“And, there are some places in public buildings, where the tension could obviously be very high, due to things that are going on or frustrations that occur. And, so I think if you talk to the average person when they find out some of the places you can take guns, they’re not really aware of that. And, when they find out the case has changed for them, then they think about it also.”

Vana along with other Palm Beach County officials worked closely with Representative Berman in drafting the bill.

And, Senator Maria Sachs, the bill’s other sponsor, says for her, she can’t get her head around not allowing guns at schools, but they can be allowed at day care centers.

“If you’re not allowed to carry a gun into a school, where children are five years old, I’m sure the law should extend to those who are 4, and 3 and 2, it just makes sense.”

Sachs says she’s confident, both Democrats and Republicans will get on board with the bill. That’s because she can’t see anyone justifying carrying a weapon into places, like a day care center.

“I challenge anyone who likes to carry guns, or favors the carrying of guns to give a justification for being able to carry a loaded firearm into a child care center or into an office of their constitutional officers.

But, there was one lawmaker who did accept that challenge: Representative Matt Gaetz, the sponsor of the law Berman and Sachs are trying to fix. He says though it’s a fair discussion to have, he would not vote for their bill:

“In my view, it’s never the people who are the law abiding citizens, that we worry about anyway, if we have a sign outside of a day care center, that says ‘no guns in the day care center,’ I don’t think that’s going to stop somebody that is entering the day care center to do harm. See regulation only impacts those folks who are law abiding, who will follow the regulation, no sign, no local government ordinance is going to stop violence, so I don’t want to unnecessarily infringe upon the rights of law abiding gun owners.”

Berman’s and Sachs’s bill have not yet been heard in Committee as yet and each need to go through three committees before it makes it to the floor. The House bill’s first committee will be the House Criminal Justice SubCommittee. The Senate version of the bill’s first committee will be the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.