As each new dawn brings the sunrise from the east, the dawn of a new legislative session in Florida brings a gun-control bill from Democrats in the Legislature.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer continued the pattern by introducing a measure to ban “assault” weapons” and high-capacity magazines.
The Fort Lauderdale Democrat’s bill defines an “assault” weapon as one “capable of fully automatic, semiautomatic, or burst fire at the option of the user.” More specifically, his proposed ban would cover all models of the popular AR series, those in the AK line, and nearly 70 additional rifles, pistols and shotguns.
It further defines “large-capacity” magazines as those capable of holding more than 10 bullets.
And anyone in Florida who “distributes, transports, or imports into the state, sells, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives an “assault” weapon or large-capacity magazine” would be guilty of a third-degree felony and face a minimum of two years in prison, if the bill becomes law.
Simple possession of such a weapon or magazine could land the person in jail for at least one year.
Law enforcement officers and military personnel would be exempt.
Those who own such weapons before next Oct. 1 can be grandfathered in provided they help in the creation of a state database of military-style weapons – another idea cherished by Farmer.
The bill would require those who own such firearms to obtain a “certificate of possession” in order to lawfully own their guns. That certificate would identify the weapon by its maker, serial number, model, caliber and “unique markings.” The owner also would have to provide his or her name, address, date of birth, driver’s license number and right thumbprint. A Social Security number would be optional, but as the bill says, it would “help prevent misidentification.”
Farmer is one of the leading gun-control proponents in Tallahassee.
For example, he advocated the creation of a gun registry after the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He maintained a registry would have prevented the accused shooter, Nikolas Cruz, from obtaining the weapon he reportedly used.
Farmer filed a proposed ban on “assault weapons” in January 2019 before last year’s session, and another in November 2019 before lawmakers gathered this year.
He has repeatedly condemned what he calls “weapons of war.” In November 2019, he noted in a statement about his bill that a ban on military-style firearms “will save lives; we’ve known this for years.”
This effort, he said at the time, “will undoubtedly reduce gun violence in Florida, just as similar bills have in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. It’s time for Florida to step up and stop the sale of these dangerous military-style weapons.”
Yet according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, crime in the Sunshine State is at an all-time low, and the murder rate attributable to guns has dropped dramatically over the last five decades – even as Floridians have bought millions more guns.
FDLE data show that in 1971 the state firearm murder rate was 13.2 per 100,000 residents. It steadily dropped in ensuing years to dip below 10 for the first time in 1991, when the state recorded 9.7 per 100,000. It has not been above 10 since then. In 2018, the most recent year available, the rate stood at 5.3 per 100,000 – a plunge of 60 percent compared to 1971.
FDLE stats indicate guns have been used to commit between two-thirds and three-fourths of the murders in the state in recent years. But the number of homicides committed by pistols or other types of firearms is fairly split.
The National Rifle Association, on its website, argues 10 reasons why “assault” weapons bans are fruitless.
Among them: Americans have a Second Amendment right to own them; criminals would switch to weapons that are more concealable or that are more powerful and still comply with the language of the ban; such weapons are used in only a “modest fraction” of all violent crime; and those guns are not more powerful than other firearms, because that is dictated by the gun’s caliber and ammunition.
But one key reason: “As the numbers of ‘assault weapons’ and ‘large’ magazines have soared to all-time highs, violent crime has been cut in half.” FBI data support this claim.
According to the agency, the nation’s overall rate of violent crime per 100,000 Americans fell 49 percent between 1993 and 2019. The murder rate plummeted 47 percent over that time – even as the inventory of semi-automatic weapons grew by more than 50 million, the NRA says.