Update: After this story was published, Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam postponed his proposed change in gun-licensing rules.
Yesterday, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz carried an AR-15 rifle into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, riddled the building with bullets, and killed 17 students and teachers. The massacre was worse than Columbine. Cruz showed about as many warning signs as a suspected school shooter possibly could (and had likely been reported to the FBI), yet he was allowed to purchase an assault rifle and a whole arsenal of other firearms and ammunition.
Now, barely 24 hours later, Florida legislators are set to vote at 1 p.m. on a provision that would weaken the state's background-check laws and allow people who file incomplete background-check forms to obtain concealed-carry permits anyway. The provision is simply one bill among a smattering of insane pro-gun laws filtering through the Florida Legislature — including bills that would let gun owners carry firearms into churches and schools.
As Tallahassee reporter Steve Bousquet initially noted at the beginning of the month, state Republicans have snuck a startling proposal into the bottom of a 98-page agricultural appropriations bill, SB 740, that would force the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to grant a concealed-carry permit within 90 days of filing — even if the applicant's background check has not yet been completed.
As Miami-Dade County Democratic Party Chair Juan Cuba noted last night on social media (blogger Grant Stern first caught the post), the Florida Senate is scheduled to vote on the measure today at 1 p.m.
"Because FL Republicans are cowards bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association, they snuck in a gun provision inside of the Agriculture bill making its way through Tallahassee," Cuba wrote, adding that the rest of the bill regulates seemingly unrelated things such as oyster harvesting and standards for water-vending machines.
The bill's sponsor, Florida Sen. Kelli Stargel, told the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau earlier this month that Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam personally asked legislators to tuck the provision into the bill. There appears to be no rhyme or reason for the measure — no one has offered a full explanation as to how it would help public safety, other than arguing that "more guns make people safer." (A companion bill, HB 553, easily passed through committee and awaits a floor vote in the House.)
Instead, this appears to be a bald-faced attempt to drum up far-right support for Putnam's gubernatorial campaign. The commissioner and former U.S. congressman
During the campaign, Putnam called himself a "proud NRA sellout" — he's now offering Stoneman Douglas shooting victims and their families his "thoughts and prayers" while conveniently ignoring the fact that he wants to give guns to people who haven't received full background checks.
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Because this is Florida, Putnam's proposal is far from the only pro-gun bill floating through the Legislature. Here's a rundown of the others being debated in Tally:
- HB 621 would allow public schools to "authorize" certain concealed-carry permit-holders to take guns onto school grounds. The bill has already passed through one committee. Ocala state Sen. Dennis Baxley, who proudly champions his "Confederate heritage" and once fought erecting a monument to victims of slavery in Florida, has filed a companion bill in the state Senate. Baxley was the legislator who initially authored Florida's infamous Stand Your Ground law, which has been tied to a statewide spike in homicides.
- A group of state representatives is pushing a bill that would allow concealed-carry
permit-holdersto take guns onto the property of private, religious schools. A companion bill in the state Senate was voted down in the Senate Judiciary Committee in December.
- Baxley is also pushing SB 1048, which would give churches the option to let concealed-carry permit-holders bring guns onto their properties. The bill narrowly passed through two state Senate committees already and awaits a full floor vote in the chamber.
- Currently, Florida law prevents police from returning guns they've confiscated from people for "breaching the peace." At the moment, only a judge may order that a person's guns be given back to him or her. HB 6013, which has already sailed through multiple committees, would repeal this provision and let cops return those guns.
- Florida Sen. Greg Steube, who infamously refused to back down from a proposal to allow guns in airports last year after a shooter killed five people at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, proposed multiple insane laws that have since died, including a measure that would have effectively turned the state's concealed-carry law into a de facto "open-carry" law. The provision would have let concealed-carry permit owners "temporarily" display their guns openly in public.