But with rare exception, budget items and abortion don’t get legislators defeated. Messing with gun laws – even post-Parkland – can be the end of a career in Florida politics.
It’s never really wise to say a big bill is dead, or that something is sure to pass, at the midway point of a legislative session.
No matter how promising or impossible things look in the first half, the experienced Capitol observer knows to wait for adjournment sine die. And then maybe give it a week or two, just to be safe.
But it seems safe to say this year’s gun bill is not going anywhere. That’s interesting, though not surprising, because just a month ago there were news stories about the National Rifle Association losing influence in Florida. Oh, yeah, no less a leader than the Senate president was on board with some modest proposals like closing, or at least narrowing, the “gun show loophole” this year.
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Last week, there were solemn tributes at the Capitol to mark the second anniversary of the murders of 17 students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Less noticed, Friday also marked the one-month mark since that Senate gun proposal (SB 7028) had been formally filed with a 7-0 vote by the Infrastructure and Security Committee.
Since then, nothing. Major bills of the session don’t usually languish a month without further committee action. Consider, just by comparison, that legislation requiring parental consent (rather than simple notification) for minors seeking abortion has cleared the Senate and is pending on the House floor. And state budgets have passed both chambers and are ready for the start of House-Senate negotiations.
But with rare exception, budget items and abortion don’t get legislators defeated. Messing with gun laws – even post-Parkland – can be the end of a career in Florida politics. And, no matter what the legislation actually accomplishes, there’s not much point in tying up the Senate with a prolonged debate over a bill that not only lacks a House companion, but is opposed by both the speaker and the governor.
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Legislators defied the NRA and passed gun legislation last year, raising the purchase age from 18 to 21 and forbidding “bump stocks” that effectively increase the firing rate of rifles. The NRA promptly took the matter to federal court, arguing that it infringes on Second Amendment rights.
This year’s stalled bill aims at what gun-control advocates call the “gun show loophole,” requiring better record-keeping for private gun sales and expanding last year’s “red flag law.” That’s the provision that lets the state take guns away from people who show signs of being a danger to themselves or others.
Sometimes, when the committees have finished meeting in the waning days of a session, leaders can pry a bill out of committee and attach it as a rider to some related topic. Sometimes, they assemble whole legislative “trains” of little bills on barely related topics. But even if legislators really wanted a good gun debate, this would be like piggybacking a whale onto a fiddler crab.
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“There’s just not a lot of bills floating around that are germane to that subject area, that you could amend by committees, by design,” Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, told the News Service of Florida last week. “This is not (a) piece of legislation that you want to bring up on the floor in a bizarre kind of twist.”
Aside from Parkland, where 17 were killed and 17 more wounded, Florida has had mass shooting incidents at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a Tallahassee yoga studio, a Jacksonville video game tournament, a bank in Sebring and the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Survivors and family members of the victims have rallied at the Capitol and pleaded with legislators to offer something more than thoughts and prayers.
But this is an election year. Regardless of its merits, or lack of merits, a gun bill that stays in committee doesn’t get a rollcall vote that can be used against a member in campaign advertising next summer.
Bill Cotterell is a retired Tallahassee Democrat capitol reporter who writes a twice-weekly column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org