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FL Dems Look To Block State Gun Legislation

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) speaking flanked by Sen. Maria Sachs (D-West Palm Beach) and Sen. Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale)
Nick Evans

Republicans in the Florida Legislature are leading the charge to expand gun rights in public places.  Democrats are doing their best to slow the progress.

There are three major guns provisions moving through the legislature: guns on campus, open carry, and greater stand your ground protections.  At a press conference Thursday, Sen. Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale) gathered opponents of all three. 

“I’ve not seen a worse union of bills since Bonnie and Clyde,” Smith says.  “There’s no way we can guns openly carried on campus with a very broad stand your ground.” 

“The Legislature must do better, should do better and we’re here to request that it does better,” he goes on.

The first of the three—guns on campus—is a retread from last year.  It failed after stalling out in a Senate committee.  Florida State University professor and president of the school’s faculty union Matthew Lata says opposition to the idea is just as strong now as it was then.

“So, review.  Students: opposed.  Faculty: opposed.  Presidents: opposed.  Police chiefs: opposed.  People of the state of Florida: opposed,” Lata says.  “If I’m a legislator that’s an issue I can get on board with—everybody’s against it.  But a lot of people in this building just aren’t listening.”

And Smith brought out Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)—head of the Democratic national committee and a former Florida state lawmaker—to hammer the point home.

“I’m confident that my children will earn bright futures scholarships,” Wasserman Schultz says, “and will attend a state university.  We also have prepaid college tuition plans and have always planned to send our kids to a state university.”

“But it is really troubling and disturbing to me that they might be on a campus where another might decide to solve a problem with a weapon,” she says.  “Because lets be frank—sometimes college kids get in fights and have misunderstandings.”

And it appears campus carry opponents may get their wish.  The News Service of Florida reports Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz De La Portilla (R-Miami) doesn’t plan to bring the bill up for a vote.

When it comes to open carry legislation resistance is only slightly less fierce.  The Florida Sheriff’s Association opposes open carry but they’re pitching an amendment that would address some gun advocates’ concerns.  One of the arguments in favor of open carry is concealed weapons holders might face prosecution for inadvertently displaying a firearm.  The sheriffs still want to block broader open carry, but they think passing new protections for unintentional violations might be a good idea.

Still, Smith isn’t crazy about their proposal.

“Well I think that’s the situation of making an awful bill just bad,” Smith says.  “I think this is still a bad idea to have that in the state of Florida, especially as I said before, a state with stand your ground.”

Now, that final measure isn’t dead, but it’s on life support.  Thanks in part to the muscle of future Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart), stand your ground legislation has made it to the Senate floor, but a House panel scuttled the provision at its first hearing.  The proposal would shift the burden of proof in pretrial stand your ground hearings.  If the Senate approves the measure the House could take it up, but typically the chambers don’t bring forward legislation that has failed in committee.