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Orlando Shooting Launches Florida Into National Gun Debate

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The guns used to kill at least 49 people in an Orlando gay club were purchased legally. In the wake of the largest mass shooting in recent U.S. history, WFSU looks into Florida’s gun laws.

Just days before the Orlando shooting, the gunman purchased a handgun and an semi-automatic rifle from a local store. Even though he was investigated by the FBI twice as a terror suspect, the gunman was able to buy the weapons legally. The incident has launched Florida into the middle of the national gun debate.

“I’ve got people who we know have been on ISIL websites, living here in the United States, US citizens, and we’re allowed to put them on the no fly list when it comes to airlines. But because of the National Rifle Association, I cannot prohibit those people from buying a gun!” he said.

President Barack Obama, spoke on PBS NewsHour two weeks before the Orlando massacre. Those words seem to foreshadow the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history.

Dawn Hoffman runs DSH Firearms in Tallahassee. The family-run shop is tucked under the oak trees along one of the city’s canopy roads. Inside, the place is kind of homey: there’s fresh-baked cookies and scented candles. And lots and lots of guns.

“They’re tools. They can be used for competition. They can be used for pleasure, as a sport, like golfing. And they also can used for self-defense. And they also can be used to put food on the table,” she said.

Hoffman does everything by the book. The process to purchase a handgun begins with a form: name, date of birth, address, driver’s license. Buyers must answer questions on their criminal history and immigration status. Those answers are confirmed by a federal background check, including a screening of court records. If someone is convicted of a felony or certain domestic violence charges, or has ever been committed to a mental hospital, they’re denied.

“So we call in the background check, we give em all the information. Once we do, they do they give us a control number that we put here, the transaction number. We put the date that we received it and then we file this. And keep it forever,” she said.

Background checks are required to buy any gun from a licensed dealer. And for handguns, there is a mandatory three day waiting period. But if a person already has a concealed weapons permit, they can walk out with their gun the same day. That’s also true for long-guns. In Florida there is no mandatory waiting period to purchase shot guns and rifles, including semi-automatics similar to the AR-15. Like many 2nd Amendment advocates, Hoffman believes guns aren’t the problem.

“I don’t feel like guns are the enemy. I feel like if he really wanted to do something and he couldn’t get firearms he would’ve found some other way,” she said.

According to a Department of Justice analysis, over the last 30 years homicides were most often committed with handguns, not rifles. But for President Obama and other gun control advocates, it’s an issue of access. He believes it’s just too easy for suspected terrorists to get a hold of weapons like AR-15s.

“This is somebody who is a known ISIL sympathizer, and if he wants to walk into a gun store or a gun show right now, and buy as many weapons and ammo as he can, nothing’s prohibiting him from doing that. Even though the FBI knows who he is,” he said.

Following the Orlando shooting, Senate Democrats, led by Chris Murphy of Connecticut, held a nearly 15 hour-long filibuster, demanding gun control legislation. Florida Senator Bill Nelson joined the effort, reading the words of an Orlando trauma doctor on the chamber floor.

“For on June 12 after the worst of humanity reared its evil head, I saw the best of humanity come fighting right back. I never want to forget that night. Dr. Joshua Corsa,” he said.

The marathon speeches spurred Republican leadership to action, and the chamber will weigh in on two different gun control measures. One would bar those on federal watch lists from buying firearms, and the other would enact mandatory background checks at gun shows.

*Correction: According to the Washington Post, the gun used in the Orlando shooting was a Sig Saur MCX, which looks similar to an AR-15.

As a Tallahassee native, Kate Payne grew up listening to WFSU. She loves being part of a station that had such an impact on her. Kate is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. With a background in documentary and narrative filmmaking, Kate has a broad range of multimedia experience. When she’s not working, you can find her rock climbing, cooking or hanging out with her cat.