After the Pulse nightclub shooting last weekend, Florida Democratic lawmakers made it public Wednesday morning: they’re calling on Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Andy Gardiner for a special legislative session to try and pass laws to ban suspected terror suspects from buying guns.
Sen. Darren Soto, Rep. John Cortes, Sen. Geraldine Thompson and others gathered in front of the Orange County Courthouse on Orange Avenue and made their statement unified: it’s time to act on guns.
Soto’s reason for the narrow scope of the law, only focusing on terror suspects not being able to buy guns, is that he wants a law “everyone can agree on” and pass with bipartisan support. Soto’s proposal would ban any suspected and known terrorists from buying a firearm if they are on an FBI watch list or the No Fly List.
Once they are off the watch list, Soto said they would only be allowed to buy firearms after “a thorough investigation” by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“We’ve come together today to put forward a narrowly tailored idea that both parties can agree on,” Soto said. “There are many who will call for assault rifle bans, banning firearms for those who commit hate crimes, additional safety and training protocol. I agree with them, and these issues should be scrutinized and hotly debated going forward in future legislative sessions.”
Thompson said the focus should be less on ISIS and more on the broader issue of terrorism in the U.S., which is committed overwhelmingly with guns.
“The focus has been on ISIS and on terrorism,” she said. “But we’ve lost focus on, a year ago this week, with regard to what happened in Charleston — that also was terrorism. We have lost focus on what happened in Sandy Hook; we’ve lost focus on what happened in San Bernardino. And the common denominator among all of these instances of mass murder is readily available guns.”
She called for tightening background checks and not being able to buy guns from private individuals or at gun shows without them. She also said the state needs to look at who can be licensed as a security guard in Florida, as shooter Omar Mateen was licensed to carry guns because he was a security guard.
“The Legislature needs to make rules about who has access to guns,” she said. “People need to defend themselves, but what do you need? A bazooka? A flame thrower? A rocket launcher?”
Cortes said the issue had become personal for him.
“My son could have died that night,” he said. “He was going to go out and hang out with his two friends. But luckily, he got talked out of it by a girl who asked him to come to her birthday party. If it wasn’t for her, he’d be dead right now.”
He said the state needs to reform its gun laws heavily, and it has to be a bipartisan effort “to protect our families.”
“Why should people be buying guns in Walmart, flea markets, gun shows, and then they don’t have no background checks?” he asked. “Come on. Let’s do something.”
Rep. Randolph Bracy said politicians needed to stop being beholden to the National Rifle Association when making decisions on gun laws.
“I have had colleagues who have told me that they cannot support a measure like this because they will be targeted by the NRA,” he said. “The NRA will pit a primary opponent against them, and fund that opponent, and they will be out of office.”
During a question-and-answer session after the news conference, one reporter said Soto had sided with the NRA on “almost every major issue in the Legislature,” and asked if he regretted his “A” rating from the NRA.
Soto responded he was proud of the work he’d done to legislate against guns.
“I have a “C” rating with the NRA,” he said. “And I was proud to be able to help stop guns on campus, as well as reduce increases to stand your ground, as well as work with Geraldine Thompson to fund more FDLE investigations of shootings of individuals by law enforcement.”
Both Thompson and another speaker, Orange Soil and Water Conservation District Chair Eric Rollings, said the issue was not political any longer — it was more than that.
Thompson, citing the killing of Gino Nicolas and another resident, Tanya Skeen, in a drive-by shooting two months ago, asked when enough would be enough.
“This is not a political issue,” she said. “This is something that has needed to be addressed for a very long time. Pulse is in the Senate district I represent. I had to lend my voice to say how many more instances of murders, drive-by shootings, of mass murders, massacres – how many more do we have to have before we speak up, and now is the time?”
Rollins, an openly gay public official himself, said he lives across the street from Pulse, and the shooting affected him on a personal level. He said the issue was “not a Democrat or Republican issue, but a life issue.”
“I was listening to a report on the radio, and someone said ‘now is not the time for this discussion, it’s too early,’” he said. “No, it’s not. It’s way, way too late.”