Orange County to reconsider gun background checks yet again

Teresa Jacobs

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs may be heading toward a change of heart on background-check waiting periods for the purchase of guns in her county, and on Tuesday the rest of the Orange County Commission will consider a new ordinance to require such checks.

Jacobs has called for a public hearing on what will essentially be the proposed reinstatement of an ordinance the county repealed under her leadership in 2011. It’s a required three-day waiting period so that background checks can be made on people purchasing firearms in the county.

“In the wake of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and based on several discussions with County Attorney Jeffrey Newton before and after the shootings, I requested he draft an ordinance to reinstate the three-day waiting period,” Jacobs wrote in an April memo.

The reverse course takes into account that several cities have, since the Parkland shootings, approved gun ordinances and then sued the state, challenging pre-emptive legislation the Florida Legislature approved in 2011. That 2011 state law made local gun ordinances so illegal that local officials could be fined, thrown out of office, and sued for passing them.

It was in light of that 2011 local pre-emption law that Jacobs and the Orange County commission decided, in the fall of 2011, to repeal the county’s original firearms waiting-period ordinance, along with numerous other ordinances that had been on the county books relating to guns.

Yet the gun waiting period ordinance had stood aside as potentially different from all the others because the Florida Constitution had authorized it. It was approved in 1998, under then-Orange County Chair Linda Chapin, as an explicit response to the 1998 state constitutional amendment approved by voters that fall. That amendment became Article VIII Section 5 of the Florida Constitution, which allowed counties to impose waiting periods for all firearm purchases.

In a conversation earlier this year, Newton recalled that there had been uncertainty in 2011 about whether the 1998 waiting period ordinance could uphold a challenge, since it was based on a Florida Constitutional Amendment that explicitly authorized it. The potential penalties under the 2011 preemption law were severe enough – Newton called them “Draconian” – that the board was advised that its safest route was to just repeal it, “and that’s what the board ended up doing.”

Now the board gets a chance to reconsider whether it’s willing to stand up to potential litigation, in the post-Parkland and post-Pulse environment. The board will hold a public hearing sometime Tuesday afternoon, toward the end of the commission meeting that will convene at 2 p.m.

“Especially in our community, failure to do everything we can to prevent senseless and unnecessary gun violence like the tragedy at Pulse nightclub and recently at Parkland school is absolutely unacceptable,” Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart, who pushed gun legislation at the state level, stated in a news release.

Chapin also has urged the board to readopt the ordinance.

The candidates to be the next mayor of Orange County are split. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said last week he supports the ordinance and is confident the sheriff’s office will be able to enforce it. Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, who will have a vote on the ordinance, indicated he probably could support it but wants to hear the full debate. Winter Park businessman Rob Panepinto dismissed the ordinance, saying the only way to address the issue most appropriately and effectively is at the state level.

Scott Powers

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 [email protected].


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