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Florida Democrats Trigger Special-Session Vote on Guns

Democrats unsuccessfully tried to hold a special session on guns after Orlando's Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, which left 49 people dead. (Fuzzy Gerdes/Flickr)
Democrats unsuccessfully tried to hold a special session on guns after Orlando's Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, which left 49 people dead. (Fuzzy Gerdes/Flickr)
August 23, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida house Democratic Caucus has forced a vote on whether lawmakers should convene a special session to address what they call an epidemic of gun violence in the state.

From the back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio to everyday violence involving guns, Democrats say it's time to act. It only takes 20% of the 160 members of the legislature to trigger a poll of the body to bring them back to Tallahassee.

Democratic state Rep. Barbara Watson of Miami Gardens says the violence is out of control where she lives in Miami-Dade County.

"We've had children shot in their beds from stray bullets,” says Watson. “We've got to do things that will really curtail the use of firearms, particularly in inner cities. If we're talking about hunting, I don't see the value in having a gun that can shoot off a hundred rounds."

Three-fifths of the GOP-controlled Legislature would have to agree to have a special session, and so far Senate President Bill Galvano – R-Bradenton – and House Speaker José R. Oliva – R-Hialeah – rejected the call, noting lawmakers will be in Tallahassee for committee weeks in September through December with the regular lawmaking session beginning in January.

While the chances of a special session remain slim, Watson is hopeful to see comprehensive gun reform. She sponsored a bill that was signed into law by former Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2013 that blocks mentally ill individuals, committed under the Baker Act, from buying a gun.

She says law enforcement needs more time to complete background checks.

"To do a thorough background check on individuals, three days is not adequate,” says Watson. “I believe that 10 days would give them an opportunity to go and do a nationwide search so that we won't have people coming across borders purchasing guns."

Watson says many other issues require a dedicated focus of the Legislature on guns. She wants to see the duration of licenses for carrying concealed weapons be reduced and revised requirements for safe storage of weapons at home.

Galvano also requested that committee study mass shootings and white nationalism and report its findings to lawmakers. They have until Tuesday to vote on the call for a special session, with the majority so far voting no.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL