Assault weapons ban axed in hearing
By Dan Sweeney Staff writer
TALLAHASSEE — A rally outside the state Capitol featuring more than a thousand gun-control activists became a raucous Senate committee hearing Monday as gun-control activists filled the room, hooting and hollering as speaker after speaker demanded a ban on assault weapons, and hissing and booing as NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer warned that a proposed ban “stops short of banning every gun known to man.”
The assault weapons ban was one of about half a dozen Democratic amendments voted down in Monday’s meeting, despite two hours of testimony by activists, many of whom came by bus from South Florida.
Democrats tried to attach a series of gun control amendments to a sweeping bill on school safety, mental health and gun access meant to address the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Other amendments included a trigger lock requirement and the removal of part of the bill that would allow some teachers to carry firearms.
But it was the proposed assault weapons ban that drew hours of testimony from dozens of speakers.
“Being from Broward County, this has landed in my front yard,” said state Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale. “This is the students’ No. 1 request when they come to us.”
The amendment banning assault rifles failed 7-6. Voting against the amendment were state Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers; Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island; Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg; Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa; Keith Perry, R-Gainesville; and Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.
Voting in favor of banning assault weapons in the state were state Sens. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens; Lauren Book, D-Plantation; Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee; Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami; and Thurston.
The hundreds of people who had packed the room to voice their support began chanting “vote them out” as Benacquisto, the Rules chairwoman, attempted to restore order.
“This is not about banning all guns,” said Rodriguez, the amendment sponsor. “This is about weapons of war specifically designed to kill humans efficiently.”
The larger bill would ban sales of all firearms to anyone younger than 21 and require a three-day waiting period for purchases; the law currently has such requirements for handguns only. Exceptions would be made for military and law enforcement.
The legislation also creates a new risk protection order, under which law enforcement could petition a court to take someone’s firearms if they pose a threat. Those firearms could be held for up to 12 months.
The sale of bump stocks, firearm accessories that allow semiautomatic rifles to fire at near-automatic rates, would be banned under the legislation. But possession would remain legal, a point also noted by Rodriguez. The age limit in the bill also would not apply to private sales.
“A 19-year-old could still buy a semiautomatic weapon from a private dealer and a 19-year-old could still possess a semiautomatic weapon,” Rodriguez said.
The activists who packed the room were especially angry over a part of the bill that institutes the Florida Sheriff’s Marshal Program, under which teachers and administrators would be allowed to carry firearms in school. Those who elect to participate in the program would have to go through 132 hours of training after a background check, psychological exam and drug screening. Both a school district superintendent and a county sheriff can prevent anyone from participating in the program for any reason.
State Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, said that teachers would now have to be included in the talk that he and other African-American fathers have to give their kids in addressing how to act around armed authority figures.
“It bothers me to think as a father of two young boys to tell them to not be aggressive to your teacher,” he said. “Please don’t make it dangerous for children who look like my children to go to school.”
But Braynon’s amendment removing the marshal program, as with all the other Democratic amendments, was voted down. The one exception was another Braynon amendment, which creates a fund to help with medical costs of victims of mass shootings. The state already has a victim’s compensation fund that can defray medical costs for all crime victims, including victims of mass shootings.
“This is a first step toward making sure that this never, ever happens again,” said Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky, who spoke before the committee.
The bill passed 9-4, with all but one Republican and some Democrats in favor.
“We have people who are ready on both sides of the aisle to take affirmative steps and revisit the legislation we have in place … to prevent these tragedies from happening in the future,” said the bill sponsor, state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
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