Senate tables gun bills amid Parkland outcry
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Two gun-related measures backed by Second Amendment advocates were put on hold Wednesday as students from Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and other schools pressured lawmakers for gun-control legislation.
The Senate postponed a vote on a bill (SB 1048) that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns at churches and other religious institutions that share property with schools. It also postponed a vote on a more-obscure bill (HB 55) that would allow people to use credit cards to make payments for background checks on firearm purchases.
Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who is sponsoring the bill about guns at churches, said it was a good to “pause” as lawmakers come face to face with students grieving after the mass shooting last week that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Also, lawmakers await a proposed legislative package from Gov. Rick Scott in response to the shooting.
“Right now, we understand what this week is. It’s very enmeshed in what do we do to make students safe,” Baxley said. “We understand that atmosphere, and that’s why some of these things just need to be put off.”
The proposal would have been the first pro-gun issue debated since the Feb. 14 shooting, which has refueled a debate in Florida and nationally about gun control and gun rights.
“I think at some point, when we get the other issues all considered, we can go back and look at that,” Baxley said of the bill.
Baxley’s measure also faced pressure from Democrats, who filed amendments intended to bog down the proposal and spur a gun-control debate. The amendments proposed such things as expanding background checks on gun purchases, specifying how firearms should be stored and banning the sale of civilian versions of “assault” weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“These bills quintessentially reflect how out-of-touch our state Legislature has become,” Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, said of Baxley’s proposal. “If you stand for life and family values, how can you sit idly as children are being slaughtered and lives are being forever shattered? How can we, as lawmakers charged with the safety and well-being of our state’s citizens, continue to do nothing?”
People with concealed-weapons licenses can carry guns at churches and other religious institutions, but they currently can’t do so if schools are on the property.
Baxley proposal would include restrictions, such as a prohibition on carrying guns during school hours or when school extracurricular activities take place.
A broader proposal (HB 1419) awaits a hearing on the House floor. That measure would enable churches, synagogues or other religious institutions to allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on property “owned, rented, leased, borrowed or lawfully used” by the institutions.
Critics contend the House version would allow concealed weapons at public schools when the facilities are used by religious groups.
Both measures were crafted with an eye on a shooting in November at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 26 people died and 20 others were injured after a gunman starting firing from across the street before making his way into the building.
The gunman, who later died of a self-inflicted wound, was shot twice as he exited the Texas church.
But issues surrounding the Texas incident have been overtaken in the Florida Legislature by the Parkland massacre, in which a 19-year-old brought a legally purchased semiautomatic rifle into the school, pulled the fire alarm and then started firing as students exited classrooms.
At Scott’s direction, a series of workshops were held Tuesday with law-enforcement, education and mental-health officials as the governor’s office crafts proposed legislation.
The same day, House Democrats attempted an unusual procedural move to call up a bill on the House floor that had not been heard in committees.
The measure (HB 219) seeks to prohibit “assault” weapons. The Republican-dominated House, in a 71-36 vote, refused to take up the bill as a group of Parkland students watched from the gallery.
While the procedural effort has generated a lot of media attention, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat who graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, called out his party for the action, which he said was made without the knowledge of the full Democratic caucus.
“I have been and will continue to work with Democrats and the Republican majority to pass a bill that addresses the tragedy in my hometown,” said Moskowitz, who was attending the funeral of one of the students when the vote occurred. “Procedural games will not make policy. Only members from both parties working together on legislation will bring the gun safety changes we need to prevent this from ever happening again.”
Earlier, Senate Judiciary Chairman Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, decided against hearing a bill that would allow designated people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns at schools. The Judiciary Committee had been slated to take up the issue (SB 1236) Tuesday.
Another proposal (SB 740) that would allow some concealed-weapons license applications to be approved when background checks have not been completed was postponed last week before appearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
News Service of Florida