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Gun Violence and Gun Safety Likely To Be Major Issues During Florida Lawmaking Session

Shiny bullets next to a black amunition magazine
Photo by Ryan on Unsplash

“Does anybody think we have too many gun laws in Florida right now?”

Senator Tom Lee asked that question of a panel of experts including scholars and law enforcement. He’d gathered them for a September committee discussion after Senate President Bill Galvano tasked Lee with looking into the causes and possible solutions of gun violence and mass shootings.

It turns out, the answer to that question depends largely on who one asks. A group of Florida Democrats says Florida needs more laws to keep firearms out of the hands of people who intend to do harm.

“There’s lots we can do short of limiting gun rights and we’d like to have a meaningful conversation about that this session,” Said Rep. Javier Fernandez (D-Coral Gables)

One idea he has suggested is expanding the state’s red flag law. Florida law already allows police to get court approval to temporarily take weapons from people they worry might harm themselves or others. Fernandez says a possible expansion would let family members ask a judge to remove somebody’s guns if they think that person is a danger to themselves or others. Other Democrats are pushing measures to ensure background checks even in private sales. Others are calling for a ban on assault style weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines. But the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Rick Swearingen says many of those plans won’t address the bad actors who already have weapons.

“Generally prohibition doesn’t work. It didn’t work with alcohol in the 20s. It didn’t work with drugs. So banning a particular item and I don’t have a—I don’t care about those particular issues as much as I care about how do we stop these from happening and the way we do that is through proven studies,” Swearingen said. “Let’s identify the behaviors of these people and regardless of what weapon they choose, regardless of their ideology, and regardless of where they want to carry this out, let’s stop them before they ever get to that point.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers like Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-Clermont) say more access to firearms might be the answer to keeping people safer. He wants to repeal a provision preventing people from carrying guns on public college and university campuses.

“I want to remove that because there’s no evidence to prove that concealed weapons permit holders are dangerous in anyway. In fact, they make a place more safe by literally just being there because a responsible citizen proficient in the use of firearms makes a place more safe,” Sabatini said.

It’s a scary idea for Elham Shekari who is earning her PHD in urban planning at Florida State University.

“It’s really scary—especially with all of the recent violence that’s been going on. It’s extremely scary to think that they think the solution is to have more guns,” Shekari said.

Shekari said the thought of people carrying guns on campus puts her on edge. She says the job of keeping places safe should be left to the police.

“How can anyone trust anyone else to be responsible with that? I think just practically speaking that does not make much sense. And realistically, how many people are actually trained enough to be able to do that,” Shekari said.

Discussions about firearm safety and efforts to curb gun violence are likely to play a central role throughout the legislative session.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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