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Florida's Newest Gun Law: What Is Its Effect On Floridians?

A new Florida law blocking certain mentally ill individuals from buying a gun is pitting gun rights groups against each other.  While some say the legislation (HB 1355) makes Florida streets safer, others say it violates the Second Amendment.

The new law, which took effect July 1st, restricts the sale of guns to people with a mental health illness who voluntarily committed themselves to a mental health facility. Miami Gardens Democratic Representative Barbara Watson is the bill’s sponsor.

“It’s very narrow in its focus. It only applies to individuals who are in an endangerment to themselves or others and have been Baker Act. Those three elements must be in place,” said Watson.

Under the Baker Act—the state’s law addressing mental health needs—people involuntarily committed to a mental health institution are not allowed to purchase a gun. But, those who checked themselves in retained that right. So, Watson, aiming to close that loophole, filed the bill.

It was the only gun-related bill to pass out of the Florida Legislature this year and did so with bipartisan support.

Even so, Governor Rick Scott was non-committal before signing the bill into law.

“Well, I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I’ll be reviewing that bill, but I’m a very strong supporter of the second Amendment,” said Scott.

But, not everyone agrees Scott is committed to Floridians’ right to bear arms.

“There have been bills that are a testament to things he has done for Second Amendment rights. But, we believe that Governor Scott has shown his disregard for law abiding gun owners by signing this bill,” said Danielle Thompson.

Thompson is the spokeswoman for the National Association for Gun Rights. In recent weeks, the Governor’s inbox has been flooded with thousands of e-mails urging him to veto the bill, and her group led that effort.  Thompson says the group's Florida members are disappointed the bill is now law.

“This bill allows state government to confiscate guns from law abiding gun owners, people who have not committed any crimes. So, just for seeking voluntary mental health treatment, the state will have the power to strip gun owners of their rights—like I said law abiding gun owners—just for seeking voluntary mental health treatment. So, they have that power to deem somebody fit or not, just for a mental health reason,” Thompson added.

But, other gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association and the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, are big backers of the new law.  Lobbyist for the groups and former NRA President Marion Hammer says Scott did the right thing in approving the bill, ignoring what she calls a “flood of misinformation.”

“There is nothing in this bill that will harm Second Amendment rights. In fact, it will help protect second amendment rights by keeping dangerous people from being able to buy guns and then their actions being blamed on law abiding gun owners. I don’t know how an organization can maintain credibility in the face of the false information that was disseminated,” said Hammer.

Meanwhile, other critics have suggested the new law will deter people from seeking professional help. But, Representative Watson, the law’s architect, says that’s also false.

“This only applies to individuals who have been deemed a danger to themselves or others. Doesn’t’ have anything to do with the regular individual counseling for depression, or mental—or what I call—workup. It’s not that individual that this law applies to at all,” said Watson.

The new law puts those deemed a danger into a national database called NICS, or the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. But, if both a doctor and judge agree the person has been successfully treated, that person may be taken off the list and have their rights restored.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.