Last year saw record numbers of gun sales in Florida and across the U.S., and preliminary data shows a spike in gun violence nationwide in 2020. Additionally, a new report shows that Florida continues to lag in gun-safety legislation, despite the rising risks.
Every year, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gives each state a letter score from A to F based on the strength of its gun-safety laws. While other states have strengthened their laws and improved their ratings following several high-profile shootings, Florida remains mired below average, receiving a C- from the Giffords Center for the third year in a row.
Of course, it could be worse. Ari Freilich, a state policy director for the Giffords Center, tells New Times that at one point, Florida was among the worst states in the U.S. when it came to gun-safety laws, consistently earning an F on the annual scorecard. All that changed after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018. Following the massacre, Florida legislators passed a number of gun reforms, including increasing the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 and imposing a three-day waiting period for gun purchases.
"After the shooting in Parkland, Florida legislators stepped up and improved the laws. Florida rose from an F to C-," Freilich says. "That's a significant leap."
But since then, Florida has not kept pace with other states that have enacted more gun violence-prevention measures, and the Florida Legislature has shut down attempts to rein in the purchase and use of firearms.
In 2020, the state conducted more background checks for gun sales and transfers than in any year since 2004, according to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). The FDLE reports that there were over 1.5 million background checks for firearm purchases by December of last year — well beyond the 942,052 checks performed in 2019. The number of background checks spiked in March 2020, around the time of the first COVID-19 lockdown orders.
Reported instances of gun violence also increased last year in Florida.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, gun-related injuries rose from 1,575 to 1,749. Teen injuries from gun violence jumped from 86 to 147. And shootings of four or more people grew from 15 to 34.
Freilich and his colleagues at the Giffords Center argue that the rise in gun violence is exacerbated by weak gun laws in states like Florida, including the so-called gun show loophole.
Currently in Florida, a person does not have to subject themselves to a background check to purchase a firearm if they're buying from a private seller who isn't a licensed dealer. That loophole allows people who would not pass a background check to buy guns in private sales, including at gun shows, without going through the FDLE.
Some legislation has been introduced in the Florida Senate that would crack down on that loophole. Senate Bill 330, which was filed in December and is awaiting committee review, would require parties to a firearm sale, if neither is a licensed dealer, to consummate their transaction through a licensed dealer, who would need approval from the FDLE to complete the sale.
Other gun-safety legislation introduced this year includes a ban on "assault weapons" and high-capacity magazines, stricter requirements for people to securely store firearms in the vicinity of minors, and the creation of an Urban Core Gun-Violence Task Force.
It remains to be seen whether the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, which has previously shut down attempts at gun-law reform, will advance the legislation. In fact, some lawmakers are pushing to expand Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which gives broad leeway to people who fire their guns during altercations with others. Under a new bill proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, armed people could legally shoot suspected looters or individuals participating in criminal mischief, an eventuality critics say could increase incidents of violence throughout the state.