Two bills would tighten Florida's gun license laws
BY MEGAN O'MATZ | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Originally published 06:42 a.m., January 22, 2008
Updated 06:42 a.m., January 22, 2008
Two bills have been offered in the state Legislature that would make it harder for people in Florida to get or keep licenses to carry guns.
In the House, a North Miami lawmaker is proposing to increase the time people have to wait before getting concealed weapon licenses if they've pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies but had convictions "withheld."
People given those court breaks would have to wait five, not three, years after serving probation to obtain licenses to carry guns. The bill also increases the wait time from three to five years after conviction for certain crimes involving drugs and alcohol, violence and drunken driving.
The legislation is the latest response to a 2007 series of articles by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which revealed that more than 1,400 people had active gun licenses even though courts found them responsible for assaults, burglaries, sexual battery, drug possession, child molestation — even homicide.
The cases included that of a man who fatally shot his girlfriend in the head as she cooked breakfast. Another man had been arrested 22 times between 1960 and 1998 and had convictions "withheld" four times for trafficking marijuana, aggravated assault, and firing a gun into an unoccupied building. Six licensees were registered sex offenders. Several hundred more had outstanding warrants for their arrest or active domestic violence restraining orders.
"I thought it was important to keep guns away from people who are not ready, or who are not able, to handle guns responsibly," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Yolly Roberson, a Democrat.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, members of the Criminal Justice Committee are working to improve how state officials learn when a person has been found mentally ill so that they can suspend or revoke a gun license.
Currently, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement collects the names and dates of births of people declared mentally ill by the courts. The information is used in screening people when they apply for carry permits.
But the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which administers the concealed weapon program, does not re-check the mental health status of licensees during the five years the permits are valid or during the renewal process. Under the bill, FDLE would have to disclose the information to the Agriculture Department for use in suspending or revoking gun licenses.
The proposed change was prompted by last year's shootings at Virginia Tech in which a mentally disturbed student killed 32 people and himself.
"We want to make sure we're consistent, that there's some sort of protection against guns falling into the hands of people who are mentally ill," said Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, vice chair of the Criminal Justice Committee.
The Agriculture Department supports the bill. "If someone ought to be disqualified from having a concealed weapon permit, we need to know about it," said Terence McElroy, agency spokesman.
McElroy said the department has no position, however, on Roberson's legislation.
In Florida, nearly 473,000 people are licensed to carry concealed handguns, knives or other weapons for self-defense.
Roberson's bill was drafted with input from the Miami State Attorney's Office, the Miami-Dade Police Department, and the Regional Community Collaboration on Violence, a South Florida civic group concerned about local shootings.
Roberson said she considered prohibiting people from obtaining gun licenses altogether if they have had convictions "withheld" for felonies, but thought it wouldn't be politically feasible. The National Rifle Association, with more than 450,000 members in Florida, has considerable sway over Florida lawmakers, working to defeat those who do not support the group's cause.
"I thought we should take a small step," Roberson said.
Marion P. Hammer, Tallahassee lobbyist for the NRA, could not be reached for comment despite messages left at her office.
She has consistently said the group does not want criminals to carry guns but believes that the problem with people who have convictions "withheld" rests with the courts, not the gun law.
As a result of the Sun-Sentinel series, prosecutors in Miami-Dade and Broward courts began last year asking judges to order the surrender of gun licenses as a condition of pre-trial release for people accused of violent crimes. Domestic violence restraining orders were also changed in Miami-Dade, Broward and, recently, Palm Beach counties to require the surrender of gun licenses.
I find it hard to believe that someone can plead "guilty" to a FELONY & STILL get a HCP??????
Unless Im reading it wrong I think they sound like a good idea. But then again, Ive never been convicted or found responsible for homicide, drug trafficking or child molestation.
miichigan is alreay like that ,theres like 5 pages of no-go offences
they already have no go offenses but my God, those that slipped through were from bad checking, not because they needed more laws.