Florida Turns ‘Gunshine State’ After Years of Republican Control

For years, Florida Capitol Police
asked gun owners to check their firearms at the door. Not
anymore.

Since a law in October made it easier to carry concealed
weapons into the 1.2 million-square-foot government headquarters
in Tallahassee, Senate security relies on alert buttons
installed on the phones of lawmakers and staffers that let them
instantly listen in to events.

“I don’t think panic buttons are going to be very helpful
if somebody charges into your office with a gun,” said Senator
Nan Rich, a Weston (82339MF) Democrat who opposed the measure.

The law, which prohibits cities and counties from
regulating firearms without the state’s permission, is among
changes in recent years that have made Florida (BEESFL) a national
laboratory for firearm regulations. Its gun rules, particularly
its “stand your ground” provision, have come under scrutiny
since the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford.
Authorities said the law prevented them from charging the man
who killed him with a 9 mm Kel-Tec PF-9 pistol.

“The goal of the gun lobby is to make Florida their armed
utopia and spread that mentality nationally,” said Dan Gross,
president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Gun supporters agree, after a fashion.

“I like to think of Florida as first in freedom,” said
Marion Hammer, executive director of Unified Sportsmen of
Florida, a National Rifle Association affiliate.

Gun Money

The Fairfax, Virginia-based NRA said it had 4 million
members and 2009 revenue of $237.5 million. It has spent $18.7
million on federal-level campaigns since 1989, which makes it
the 45th biggest donor during that time, according to the
Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. About 82
percent went to Republicans.

In Tallahassee, the NRA has won battles with business
interests, police departments, local governments and
pediatricians since 1999, when Republicans won control of the
Legislature and the governor’s office. The organization has
championed 38 laws since then to expand rights to conceal,
possess, display, discharge, sell or transfer firearms,
according to state records.

That helped put Florida among the 10 states with the laxest
gun laws, according to a 2011 scorecard from the Brady Campaign,
which advocates gun control.

While the Sunshine State’s violent crime has decreased,
according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, gun-
related fatalities increased 35 percent from 1999 to 2009,
according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. That’s double the rate of population growth during
that time and seven times greater than the national average.

‘Everybody’s Got One’

“It’s the Gunshine State,” said Kent Morden, manager at
U.S. Pawn Auto Inc. in Longwood, standing near a case of
assault rifles surmounted with a remote-control plastic robot
toy. “Everybody’s got one.”

Morden said he owned “like five” guns, including two
handguns, one of which he pulled from his pocket, pouring the
bullets onto the counter to show that it was easily concealable
and “fires a mean little round.”

The state of about 19 million has about 6 million gun
owners, Hammer said. About 800,000 have concealed-carry permits
that allow them to carry hidden firearms, according to Florida
Agriculture Department statistics. The agency’s licensing
division receives about 360,000 applications each year.

In 2004, then-Governor Jeb Bush signed bills that blocked
police from collecting data on firearm sales at pawnshops and
barred lawsuits over cleaning up lead at gun ranges.

Don’t Ask

Four years later, the NRA defeated the Florida Chamber of
Commerce when lawmakers required employers and business owners
to let workers or shoppers bring guns on their property and
leave the weapons locked in their cars.

Then-Governor Charlie Crist signed a law in 2010 forbidding
adoption agencies from considering gun ownership when matching
children with prospective parents.

And last year, Republican Governor Rick Scott, an NRA
member, approved the so-called “docs versus Glocks” statute.
The law prohibits doctors from asking patients whether they have
guns. Pediatricians opposed the bill, comparing questions about
firearms to asking about using car seats or keeping poisons in
the home.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke temporarily blocked
enforcement in September, ruling that it violated free-speech
guarantees and doesn’t trample Second Amendment gun rights. The
case continues.

A Twin Perishes

One of the NRA’s few defeats came last year, when the
Legislature considered allowing concealed weapons on college
campuses. That idea was dropped after 20-year-old Florida State
University student Ashley Cowie died in the arms of her twin
sister, whose boyfriend accidentally shot her with an AK-47-
style rifle at a fraternity house.

Even the state’s three-day waiting period to buy a handgun
was a victory for the NRA. Set by constitutional amendment,
which lawmakers put on the 1990 statewide ballot, it countered a
push for a week-long cooling-off period.

Activists such as Hammer and Gross said Republican control
of the state government is part of the NRA’s success. Democrats,
however, often back changes in gun regulations, too.

The three-day waiting period was approved by a Democratic-
controlled Legislature. So was the concealed-carry law in 1987,
which Hammer said was the first in the nation to require
approval of a license if certain requirements were met.

“Stand your ground,” which relieves a citizen of
responsibility to retreat when he feels threatened in a public
place, passed in 2005 with bipartisan support.

Shoes or Weapons

Scott created a Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection
to examine the law and the Trayvon Martin case.

The task force, which will convene after a criminal
investigation concludes, includes the Reverend R. B. Holmes Jr.,
a Baptist pastor in Tallahassee who called for the arrest of
George Zimmerman. The 28-year-old Sanford man shot Martin, an
unarmed 17-year-old, suspecting he was a burglar.

Also on the panel will be House Speaker Dean Cannon, an
Orlando Republican who received a Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon
shotgun as gift from colleagues this year.

In Sanford yesterday, Chad Murphy came into Al’s Army Navy,
which advertises “GUNS” in three-foot-high red letters in its
window, to buy a pair of shoes. Instead he wound up filling out
paperwork to buy his first handgun, a Walther PK380.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I finally
found one I really like,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Michael C. Bender in Tallahassee at
mbender10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Mark Tannenbaum at
mtannen@bloomberg.net

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