TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A push to expand gun rights in Florida appears doomed for another year after a state Senate panel on Tuesday voted down three separate gun bills.
The vote means it is unlikely the Senate will consider any gun-related legislation in the annual session that starts in January. Past efforts to loosen up gun regulations have gotten bogged down amid a divide in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The three bills that were voted down included one that would have lowered criminal penalties for concealed weapons permit holders who violate the state’s ban on openly carrying firearms. Another would have allowed those with a concealed weapon permit to carry their gun on the grounds of a private school if the school was on church property.
Sen. Greg Steube, a Bradenton Republican and a sponsor of two of the measures, called the legislation “a reasonable step” and said he wanted an up or down vote instead of allowing the bills to linger for the entire session as has happened the last two years.
Citing mass shootings such as the one that happened at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando last year, Steube said that none of the shooters in recent incidents had a concealed weapon permit. He said that the state should expand gun rights because “we have seen time and time again gun-free zones targeted and attacked.”
But Miami-Dade Republicans joined with Democrats in opposing the bills.
Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, said he could not go along with expanding gun rights when more needs to be done in Florida to address mental illness. Democratic legislators said they wanted to put in more gun restrictions as opposed to loosening up current laws.
Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican who sponsored the bill dealing with private schools, said it was clear that legislators remain deeply divided on how to respond to mass shootings and incidents of gun violence.
“The real compromise we’re looking for is between two very different schools of thought,” Stargel said. “One is, having less guns in the community is going to create less crimes and less violence. And the other school of thought, which is my school of thought, which is personal responsibility, which is I don’t want to designate to somebody else my responsibility to protect myself and my family.”
I wish there was a way we could pass a law that would stop senseless killings,” Stargel said. “I wish our law that said ‘do not murder’ worked. Unfortunately it doesn’t.”