What have Florida's politicians done to change gun laws?

Sunshine State lawmakers often split on gun control issues

ORLANDO, Fla. – While gun control is often a hot topic, especially after mass shootings such as the one in South Florida on Valentine's Day, legislation to change laws pertaining to firearms is often slow to be enacted.

“How many more times do we have to do this?” said three-term Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on the Senate floor Thursday. “How many more folks have to die? When is enough going to be enough?”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), starting his second term in the Senate, had a much starker view of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, which left 17 people dead on Valentine's Day.

“You could still pass the law, per se,” Rubio said on the Senate floor Thursday. “But you're still going to have these horrible attacks.” 

During the past six years, both Florida senators have had two completely opposite voting records on major control gun legislation.

“Let's talk about that 19-year-old carrying an AR-15,” Nelson told his fellow senators. “Let's do what needs to be done and let's get these assault weapons off our streets. Let's accomplish something on background checks.”

Rubio said those changes won't stop people who intend to do harm.

“Again, even if they couldn't pass the background check, then they could go -- they could buy them the way MS-13 does and other gangs and other street elements do, from the black market,” Rubio said.

[Guns in Florida: How the state does, and doesn't, regulate the weapons]

Since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, Nelson and Rubio have only cast the same vote once on a gun control bill or amendment. That occasion was S.649, The Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013.

The bill was approved by senators in an overwhelming majority of 95-2. Voting on amendments for that bill, however, went straight down party lines:  

  • Senate Amendment 711: Prohibiting an individual from importing, selling, manufacturing, transferring, or possessing a “semiautomatic assault weapon."
    Rubio: No | Nelson: Yes (amendment rejected 40-60)
  • Senate Amendment 714: Prohibiting an individual from importing, selling, manufacturing, transferring, or possessing a “large capacity ammunition feeding device”. 
    Rubio: No | Nelson: Yes (amendment rejected 56-44) 
  • Senate Amendment 715: Prohibiting a licensed firearms dealer from completing the transfer of a firearm to an unlicensed individual at a gun show or online without background checks (Manchin-Toomey). 
    Rubio: No | Nelson: Yes (amendment rejected 54-46) 
  • Senate Amendment 719: Authorizing certain individuals to carry a concealed firearm in any state other than his or her state of residence if the state meets under certain conditions. 
    Rubio: Yes | Nelson: No (amendment rejected 57-43)

As noted, none of the amendments passed. All efforts to toughen restrictions on guns after one of the worst mass shooting at a school fell flat.

"It can be frustrating," said Rep. Val Demings, D-Orlando.  "Many times this conversation is hijacked by the NRA and the gun lobby, who try to make it about the Second Amendment."

Four years later, after the Pulse shooting in Orlando -- which at the time was the worst mass shooting in American history --  politicians rushed legislation to the Senate floor, again in an effort to curb the violence.

There were three more amendments, more partisan voting, but no new legislation:

  • Senate Amendment 4720: The No Fly, No Buy Amendment would allow the Attorney General to deny a gun sale to anyone if there is a “reasonable belief” the buyer would likely engage in terrorism. The bill somewhat dilutes the standing notion of “probable cause” casting a wider net for exclusion on firearm sales.
    Rubio: No | Nelson: Yes (Amendment Rejected 47-53)
  • Senate Amendment 4750: The Gun Show Loophole would have required every gun purchaser to undergo a background check. The legislation would have also expanded the background check database.
    Rubio: No | Nelson: Yes (Amendment Rejected 44-56)
  • Senate Amendment 4751: The Mental Health Background Check Exclusion would have made it more difficult to add mentally ill people to the background check exclusion database.
    Rubio: Yes | Nelson: No (Amendment Rejected 53-47)

However, at least there's movement on the Senate side. 

In the U.S. House of Representatives, only one major piece of gun legislation has made it for a vote since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, according to VoteSmart.org.

[How to contact Central Florida elected officials]

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 (HB 38), passed in the house 231-198. The bill authorizes a qualified individual to carry a concealed firearm across state lines. 

A win for Republicans. 

However, Demings said the legislation that Democrats push regarding guns doesn't even come up for debate. 

"They will not bring it to the floor," Demings said. 

She said the proposed legislation to ban bump stocks after the Las Vegas shooting is a perfect example.

"I think the issue with the bump stocks is probably the clearest example," Demings said. "But they don't have the appetite for that, do they really have the appetite to ban the assault rifles? To ban universal background checks?"

She said this on the same day she and four other Democratic representatives put a call to action on a bill she's supporting.

H.R. 2598, also known as the Gun Violence Restraining Order Act, "would incentivize states to enable family members or law enforcement officials to go to a court to seek a  'gun violence prevention order,' to temporarily stop someone who poses a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing a gun."

She's hopeful this bill would at least make it to the floor. 

News 6 contacted several local U.S. representatives to see what they say about the lack of movement on gun legislation. Only U.S. Rep. Bill Posey's office has responded with this statement below:

“Whenever tragic events such as these occur, it understandably brings forth strong emotions. People need to take a step back, allow law enforcement to investigate what happened and let the families of these victims, and the community, begin the process of grieving and healing. It appears that the system failed to catch this troubled person, who was intent on harming innocent people. We must work to empower people locally to intervene whenever they feel it is appropriate and expedient to the safety of others to do so."

About the Authors:

Donovan is WKMG-TV's executive producer of digital enterprise