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Rep. Shevrin Jones speaks at Democrats' press conference on gun control proposals on the eve of the 2020 Session.

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Democrats plead for action on gun violence legislation

Gun control bills rarely receive a hearing in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Democratic lawmakers held a press conference Monday on the eve of the 2020 Legislative Session outlining proposed gun control legislation. 

The conference, led by Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, was a plea by Democrats for Republicans to hold hearings on their bills or negotiate compromises.

“Year after year, House and Senate Democrats file gun safety bills that are repeatedly ignored by GOP leadership,” Smith said. “Democrats have identified plenty of common ground with our Republican colleagues for which to take action.” 

He highlighted Sen. Lauren Book and Rep. Margaret Good’s bill for universal background checks (SB 94/HB 451). That measure, he said, is supported by 90% of Americans but has not been scheduled a hearing. 

“The people of Florida expect their elected officials to have an honest discussion on ways to keep them safe and that includes gun violence-prevention methods,” Smith said. 

His and Sen. Gary Farmer’s measure for an assault weapons ban (HB 627/SB 1208) has been filed for four consecutive years. 

And while Democrats await hearings from Republican-controlled committees, voters may pass an assault weapons ban. Ban Assault Weapons Now political committee’s constitutional amendment proposal awaits a Florida Supreme Court decision. 

“There’s a reason why that constitutional amendment and that ballot initiative exist,” Smith said. “It’s because advocates across the board have understood that the way to get something done is not to work with the Legislature. It’s to work around the Legislature.” 

South Florida Democrats Book and Rep. Dan Daley’s Jaime’s Law (SB 460/HB 289) would extend criminal background checks to ammunition. Lawmakers named it after Jamie Guttenberg, one of the 17 people killed during the attack on Stoneman Douglas High School. 

Lawmakers also promoted Rep. Shevrin Jones’ bill (HB 201) for an urban task force on gun violence. North Miami Beach Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo has filed similar bills (SB 652 and SB 1802) in the Senate. 

Jones said conversations following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting should have included violence in urban communities. 

“Those conversations should have happened together because what happened in Parkland on February 14 happens in the urban community daily, and therefore those conversations should not have been by themselves,” Jones said. 

“This year, Democrats have filed over thirty bills to curb gun violence because we know that there is no single end-all solution to the epidemic of gun violence,” Smith said. “We also know that inaction is not an option.” 

But while Democrat’s gun violence bills don’t seem to be gaining traction across the aisle, Smith said Republican Sen. Tom Lee has discussed some proposals with Republicans. Smith said those included risk protection orders, red flag laws hate crime legislation and criminal background checks. 

While the representative remains hopeful for a compromise, most gun control bills have not been given a hearing in past Sessions.

“We were told last year, when Democrats requested a special Legislative Session to deal with gun violence prevention, that we don’t need a special Session because the 2020 Session is around the corner. Here we are,” Smith said. 

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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