Less than a year after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, you’d think that the Florida Legislature would be striving to clamp down on the easy access to guns that allowed an unbalanced 29-year-old who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State to effortlessly acquire the armaments to kill 49 people.
That’s not happening. Gun control is nowhere on the agenda. But neither is the Legislature as eager as in past years to wildly expand the rights of gun owners.
“I think the members — not just myself, but some others — we’re a little gun-bill fatigued,” says Sen. Anitere Flores, a Republican from Miami who deserves credit for helping cool the usual “Gunshine State” fervor.
Florida already has the largest number of concealed-weapon permit holders at 1.7 million, roughly one for every 10 adult residents. It was the first state in the union to pass a “Stand Your Ground” law. It is also a state where, with 2,559 firearm deaths in 2015, homicide is the most distinctive cause of death, according to an analysis of 2014 data from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
On April 5, the state House passed a bill intended to shift a key burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases from defendants to prosecutors in pre-trial hearings. The Senate approved the bill on March 15, but with a difference over how convincing the prosecution’s case must be.
It’s one of the few pro-gun rights bills likely to pass this year.
The proposal is in reaction to a Florida Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that said it’s up to defendants to prove they should be shielded from prosecution under Stand Your Ground. Critics including the National Rifle Association complain the court undercut the purpose of the law, which says people can use deadly force, with no duty to retreat, if they think it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.
Stand Your Ground is billed as a measure to empower people who feel under threat, but it seems more like a license to kill. Since it was enacted in Florida in 2005, Florida’s monthly homicide rate has increased 24.4 percent and the homicide by firearm rate jumped 31.6 percent, according to a study published in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Even more disturbing, a new report showing the number of road rage incidents involving guns is on the rise highlighted Florida as having the most in the country over a two-year period, with 146 incidents. The report released April 11 by The Trace, an independent nonprofit news organization that covers gun issues, said there were at least 620 gun-involved road rage incidents in 2016 — more than double from two years earlier.
Those findings are bolstered by another study, released in 2013 by a Texas A&M University researcher, which found an average 8 percent increase in homicides in states that passed Stand Your Ground laws, with “no evidence of any deterrence effect” that the laws prevent crime.
“These laws lower the cost of using lethal force,” said the researcher, economist Mark Hoekstra. “Our study finds that, as a result, you get more of it.”
Facts like these, unfortunately, seem to have no deterrent effect on legislators who are hell-bent on loosening gun restrictions. Again, on April 5, the House approved a measure that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to bring guns to churches and other religious institutions.
Thankfully, however, an array of other bad ideas is going nowhere. That includes a bill allowing concealed weapons on college campuses. And another letting people openly carry guns in public.
Many of the pro-gun bills are sponsored by state Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, who argues that places such as airports and schools would be safer if people carried guns around them.
The inanity of that argument was encapsulated by Mark Barden, the father of 7-year-old Daniel Barden, one of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The still-grieving father said it perfectly last week on a visit to Sarasota.
“If more guns made us safer,” he said, “we should be the safest country in the world.”
Thankfully, it is one of the few pro-gun rights bills likely to pass this year.