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Dennis Baxley and Linda Stewart turn debate to defining assault weapons, defense rifles

The breadth of the chasm between Second Amendment advocates and gun law reformers became apparent Tuesday when the Florida Senate’s leading pro-gun champion squared off against the same chamber’s top advocate for firearms reform at the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida.

Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley defined a fear among firearm owners that gun control advocates want to take away their weapons, deny them freedom, and strip away their abilities to defend their homes and families against even the most extreme of threats.

The guns of question should be considered defense rifles, Baxley, author of the state’s Stand Your Ground Law, stressed repeatedly.

He argued that the gun debate now is that of an urban mindset versus a rural one. Those who believe guns are key to freedom, he said, are quiet now but will storm the polls in November.

“This [attempt to ban sales of certain kinds of guns] is only the beginning of taking your personal freedom,” Baxley said.

Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart defined a belief that the high-powered, rapid-fire rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines used in the mass shootings at Parkland, Pulse, Las Vegas and so many other places are the reasons for mass fatalities in such incidents, and their sales should be banned to stop their proliferation.

The guns in question should be known as military-style assault weapons, Stewart, author of the assault weapons sales ban bills the past two years, insisted, adding that even the National Rifle Association defines them as assault weapons.

And she said the wave of protests led by young people wanting action is not going to stop, and she predicted it will send a message in the November elections.

“What I am proposing does not take any of your guns away. It allows you to protect your family,” Stewart said.

The question from Baxley: To what extent?

Baxley openly hypothesized dystopian scenarios in which society either breaks down into violent lawlessness, and he offered New Orleans in the days after Hurricane Katrina as an example; or the American government becomes totalitarian and comes after people, and he offered Cuba as an example. This, he said, is what the Second Amendment protects against, and why it must be defended.

“The last thing we want to be is underpowered for whatever is coming at you,” Baxley said. “And we have that potential for society. We’ve seen it happen all around the world. If society unravels, what are you going to do to be safe in that environment?”

“If we lose this ability, it’s all gone,” he said.

But Stewart argued that the preponderance of mass shootings has risen since the ban on assault weapons was lifted 10 years ago.

“If you look at what the causes of these massacres are, it’ s not just mental health… The root cause of all of these is the assault weapons,” Stewart said.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

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