Florida legislators retarget assault weapon sales following Las Vegas shooting

ORLANDO, Fla. -- In the fallout of the mass shooting in Las Vegas earlier this week, Central Florida legislators, still reeling from the Pulse nightclub shooting last year, have once again taken aim at assault-style weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines being sold in Florida.

Florida State Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Winter Park, held a joint press conference at the Orange County Courthouse on Wednesday, Oct. 4 to announce the reintroduction of legislation that would effectively ban the sale and possession of assault-style weapons and magazines that hold more than seven rounds of ammunition.

"We gather here as we did earlier this year to announce proposals to keep Floridians safe from the proliferation of assault weapons," said Patricia Brigham, co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. "The previous bills, they were assigned to committees but were never given a hearing."

One of the bills Brigham mentioned in her opening remarks had been introduced during the 2017 legislative session by Rep. Smith, who introduced HB 219 on Wednesday. Smith's new bill is a slimmed down version of the previous piece of legislation, which died in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee earlier this year.

Smith said after his previous bill died in May, he wrote a letter to Rep. Ross Spano, R-Riverview, chair of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, begging him to hear the bill. Spano never responded to the letter, according to Smith.

“If I sound angry, it’s because I am angry,” Smith said. “I am angry that we can’t even have this conversation. Assault weapons have no legitimate civilian purpose. There is none.”

Offering some suggestion as to why there has been no conversation on banning assault weapons in the Sunshine State, Smith pointed to Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, who he referred to as the "leading Republican candidate" in Florida's gubernatorial race. Smith said Putnam has "shamelessly" put out sponsored political advertisements on Facebook and Twitter that say he is a "proud NRA sellout."

Both legislators had planned to roll out their respective bills around the same time, according to Smith. Prior to the press conference, both legislators had concerns whether their actions would seem callous to those affected by the tragedy in Las Vegas.

"We thought maybe, perhaps some might think it was insensitive for us to have this press conference as we had planned today, but I think that it is quite the contrary," Smith said. "It would be insensitive not to move forward with this legislation to protect our community."

Smith's legislation is a companion bill to Stewart's SB 196, which was filed on Aug. 22 this year. Despite minor differences in the legislation, both bills take aim at the same target.

"We are here because last year we put the bill out, we couldn't talk about it then, we couldn't have a committee meeting then, so in August, I refiled the bill," said Stewart during her opening remarks at the press conference Wednesday.

The bill would effectively ban the sale and purchase of all selective-fire weapons "capable of fully automatic, semiautomatic or burst fire at the option of the user" and all semiautomatic AK and AR series rifles. Included in the bill were all semi-automatic shotguns with pistol grips, detachable magazines, fixed magazines holding more than five rounds and telescopic, folding or thumbhole stocks.

All parts that could be used to convert a firearm into an assault weapon or "any combination of parts from which an assault weapon may be assembled if those parts are in the possession or under the control of the same person," would also be banned.

"I will say, it's pretty comprehensive," Stewart said of her bill. "But if we don't begin to talk about it, if we don't perhaps amend it, well, we are not doing our job."

The bill goes into detail listing some of the most common brands of assault rifles and semi-automatic firearms that would be outlawed, except under very specific circumstances. Gun dealers in possession of a federal firearms license would still be allowed to purchase assault-style weapons from citizens.

To avoid leaving any potential loopholes in the legislation for off-brand or homemade weaponry, the bill includes a ban on all semi-automatic rifles that have an ability to accept a detachable magazine with one or more of the following features:

  • Pistol grip that "protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon"
  • Folding or telescoping stock
  • Bayonet mount
  • Flash suppressor or threaded barrel
  • Grenade launcher
  • Barrel shroud

Similarly, specific details pertaining to semi-automatic handguns would render those weapons illegal under the proposed bill. All semi-automatic pistols with magazines that have one or more of the following components would be outlawed: 

  • Capacity to accept an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol at any location outside of the pistol grip
  • Threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward handgrip or silencer
  • Slide that encloses the barrel, permitting the shooter to hold the firearm with the non-trigger hand
  • Manufactured weight of 50 ounces (3.1 pounds) or more when the pistol is unloaded
  • Semi-automatic version of an automatic firearm
  • Any feature capable of functioning as a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand
  • Folding, telescoping or thumbhole stocks

A "large-capacity magazine" is defined as "any ammunition feeding device with the capacity to accept more than seven rounds, or any conversion kit, part or combination of parts," which could be used to assemble such an ammunition feeding device.

"What it doesn't do, it doesn't take your weapons away," Stewart said. "It doesn't tell you how many weapons you are allowed to have. We are just trying to restrict what can be purchased and what can be altered."

If passed, the bill would levy substantial criminal charges against anyone in the State of Florida who attempts to distribute, transport, import, sell or give away any assault-style weapon or large-capacity magazines. Any person found guilty would be charged with a third-degree felony with a mandatory minimum prison sentence of two years.

The crime would increase to a second-degree felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of six years for anyone who transfers, sells or gives away assault-style weapons or large-capacity magazines to a person under the age of 18.

The ban, however, would not apply to members of the Department of Law Enforcement, the Department of Corrections or military and naval forces "for use in the discharge of their official duties."

The possession of assault-style weapons or large-capacity ammunition magazines by anyone other than members of the groups previously mentioned would equate to a third-degree felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of one year. The statute, however, would not apply to those who were "lawfully" in possession of such weaponry prior to Oct. 1, 2018 and are eligible to apply for a certificate of possession by July 1, 2019.

The certificate of possession for assault-style weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines would be applied for through the Department of Law Enforcement. The certificate would contain a description of the weapon or magazine, the full name, address, date of birth and thumbprint of the owner and "any other information as the department may deem appropriate."

The bill states that the Department of Law Enforcement would adopt and introduce regulations that would govern the application process and the issuance of certificates of possession by no later than Jan. 1, 2019. Additionally, a background investigation conducted by the department would be required for all applicants.

If an applicant for a certificate of possession fails to qualify, the applicant "shall arrange to relinquish all assault weapons or large-capacity ammunition magazines in his or her possession" within 10 days of the notice from the Department of Law Enforcement.

After Jan. 1, 2019, it would become illegal to sell or transfer assault-style weapons or large-capacity ammunition magazines to anyone other than a licensed gun dealer. Following Oct. 1, 2019, any person who moves into the state and is in lawful possession of such weaponry must render the weapon or magazines permanently inoperable, sell them to a licensed gun dealer or remove them from the state. Military personnel would be exempt from this out-of-state rule.

In the event of a transference or sale, a certificate of transfer including the name, date, address and social security numbers or driver license numbers of the transferor and the licensed gun dealer must be recorded and given to the Department of Law Enforcement. The certificate of transference would also include the licensed gun dealer's federal firearms license number and a description of the weapon or magazine.

Smith also introduced HB 221, which would provide an exemption from public records requirements listed in s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a) of the state constitution for the personal information included on the certificates. The bill argues that the knowledge of an individual's possession of the certificate could "lead to the conclusion that he or she owns such a weapon or large-capacity ammunition magazine and may lead to the theft or attempted theft of such a weapon or magazine."

"We can send our thoughts, we can send our prayers to Las Vegas, but let's send this bill to Tallahassee," Smith said.

Follow Jordan Ferrell on Twitter at @J_E_Ferrell.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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