GUN CONTROL

Scott supports review of state gun laws: ‘I want people to feel safe’

 

Gov. Rick Scott, who has declined to say specifically what he thinks should be done to protect schools from mass shooters, said lawmakers should "look at our laws" about the issue, but refused to say whether gun laws need to be changed.

Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Rick Scott voiced his support for a broad review of Florida’s controversial gun laws by state lawmakers Wednesday, saying the state’s vital tourist economy depends on visitors being able to “feel safe” amid an increasingly well-armed population.

“We have a legislative session coming up,” Scott said during a visit to the Honeywell Aerospace plant in Largo, where he was touting his new plan to boost state manufacturing. “I think the right thing to do is go back and look at our laws.”

The father of a teacher, Scott said he would particularly support looking at ways to make schools safer. But he did not specify which other areas of existing state law might deserve scrutiny, refusing to respond to questions about universal background checks for firearm sales and a ban on assault weapons.

“I want people to feel safe in our state,” he said.

His remarks came in response to reporters’ questions on gun control, as the nation awaited an announcement from the White House on proposals to reform federal firearm regulations. President Barack Obama called on Congress Tuesday to enact bans on assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines, and expand background checks for gun purchasers.

Scott’s statements about a review of state gun laws were a rare — if still vague — foray into the debate over gun control in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six adults by a gunman at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

In previous public remarks, he has emphasized his sympathy for the victims’ families, rather than a legislative response. Scott skipped a conference call held by Vice President Joe Biden last week in which Biden solicited views on gun violence.

Scott’s press secretary, Jackie Schutz, later said she wanted to clarify that the governor’s support for a review of existing gun legislation doesn’t detract from his backing for citizens’ constitutional right to keep and bear arms. She said his remarks were not a “call to action” for specific legislation or reforms.

“Gov. Scott, as he has continued to say, is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” Schutz said. “He’s open to having a conversation, and he wants people to feel safe.”

Florida’s patchwork gun laws have subjected the state to criticism from gun-control advocates across the country. The state received a grade of “D-” in a recent review of state firearm laws by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a San Francisco-based nonprofit.

In addition to its hotly debated “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law, Florida does not require background checks for private sales of weapons and places no limit on the number of guns a person can buy at one time. The state has issued more than a million permits to carry a concealed handgun.

Top Republicans in Tallahassee have so far balked at the prospect of adjusting those laws, though they have signaled some openness to increasing funding for school-security measures after the Newtown shooting.

Senate President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, told the Orlando Sentinel this month that regulating gun access is “not something I think the Legislature will get involved in, other than peripherally.”

Asked to clarify the governor’s position on which state laws should be examined, Schutz said she could not offer specifics.

“Generally, he wants to take the [legislative] session to look at them, like he said,” Schutz said. “He wants to look at any ideas.”

Schutz declined to offer details about the governor’s ideas on school safety, or the possibility — advocated by the National Rifle Association — of placing armed guards in every elementary school.

“The safety of our schools — the teachers, the students, the people who work in the schools — is incredibly important,” she said.

Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157.

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