Legislation that seeks to formally reject President Joe Biden’s efforts on gun control cleared its first committee Monday on a party-line vote.
Sponsored by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson, the Senate Memorial (SM 1630) was met with a heated back-and-forth between the bill’s sponsor and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill voices the Legislature’s stance against Biden’s gun control proposals, calling the measures “unconstitutional.” The memorial goes on to communicate the Legislature’s intent to use “all lawful means necessary to resist and overturn any federal gun-control measures that violate the right of Floridians to keep and bear arms.”
While addressed to the President, the memorial does not list any specific measures by Biden or Congress in regard to gun control, instead referring to anticipated proposals. The memorial rejects any proposals “forthcoming at the federal level to restrict the right to keep and bear arms.”
While presenting the memorial to the committee, Hutson cited Biden’s former campaign website, expressing fear over several listed campaign proposals, although, again, they are not specified in the memorial.
“If you go to JoeBiden.com, he talks about all the legislative things he wanted to enact when he was running for office,” Hutson said. “Some of the things include the background checks that you’ve seen the House pass, but others go as far as to say 100% smart guns, and my fear is they will take away all current guns and only go to smart guns in that transition.”
Hutson also voiced personal concern over Biden campaign proposals to prohibit federal funds to states that arm teachers, as is done with Florida’s guardianship program, as well as a proposal to remove legal immunity given to gun manufacturers and gun shop owners.
Biden has called on Congress to strengthen gun laws, including requiring background checks on all gun sales and banning assault weapons, according to The Associated Press. The President has also urged Congress to outlaw high-capacity magazines and make gun manufacturers liable for the role their products play in violence.
Parkland Democrat Sen. Tina Polsky pressed Hutson about the legislation, which she defined as a “slap in the face” to victims of gun violence.
“By this memorial potentially passing, it really is a slap in the face to those victims of gun violence across this whole state — Pulse, Naval Airbase, Parkland,” Polsky said. “It’s not a consensus. It may be of this Republican majority Legislature, but it’s not a consensus of the state.”
Polsky went on to cite a 2019 poll that found that around 60% of Florida voters would support an assault weapons ban.
“To say that it’s a consensus I think is quite misleading for the people that we represent,” she said.
However, polls on public opinion seemed to be debated among the members, leading to a tense back-and-forth between Polsky and Hutson.
“Are you aware of polling that indicates that a vast majority of Floridians do want some form of gun control, or gun reform,” Polsky asked.
“Actually I’ve seen the opposite polling, where the residents of Florida — and I don’t have the data on me — but an overwhelming amount would support a constitutional amendment that, if proposed, would say the federal government can’t come in and take our weapons,” Hutson said.
The study the Senator was referencing was unclear.
“I’d love to see that,” Polsky fired back.
Democratic members of the committee also shared concern over the definition of “consensus” the bill declares, saying it is unrepresentative of Floridians and lawmakers who support federal gun control measures.
“The labeling of this field as a consensus — I just don’t think there’s anything farther from the truth,” said Democrat Sen. Perry Thurston.
Proponents of the bill hit back, saying that if the memorial is found favorable by the majority of the Legislature, it is a consensus.
“I would say passage of this bill is a statement of a consensus,” said Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley. “We need to make statements of where we’re headed here. How you can even wonder if there’s a danger here? You just didn’t watch the news cycle — when candidates announced we’re coming for your guns. I don’t know how you get more clear.”
If approved by the Legislature, the memorial would be transmitted to the Secretary of State for presentation to Biden, the U.S. Senate President (who is Vice President Kamala Harris), the Speaker of the U.S. House and to each member of Florida’s congressional delegation.
“The intent of this is to tell them where we think we stand today,” Hutson said. “If they pass gun control legislation that we think is unconstitutional in our state constitution, that would be something that the Legislature would have to look forward to, and something we would have to talk to the Attorney General about as well.”
Rep. Jason Shoaf has filed the House version of the memorial (HM 1301), which is also assigned two committees.
“We certainly have the right to rule as a sovereign nation and do what we want to do,” Hutson said. “Certainly the federal government can withhold funding if we go that route, but I’m just in this memorial trying to make our intentions clear.”