But three weeks into the 9-week legislative session, those and other gun bills have idled, with none being scheduled for a committee hearing.
After tragedies last year in Sanford, Aurora, Colo. and Newtown, Conn., some Democratic state legislatures have toughened gun laws while conservative states have threatened to defy any new federal gun control measures. In Florida, a gun-friendly state that voted for President Obama in 2012, leaders in the Republican majority have opted to avoid the divisive debate altogether.
The non-debate reflects the political landscape in Florida, dubbed the “Gunshine State.”
A series of pro-gun measures over the years has made Florida a top state for gun ownership, with more than 1 million active concealed carry permits. That translates into an army of voters, and the gun lobby is adept at mobilizing them at the first sign of any challenge to gun rights.
Marion Hammer, the former NRA president who lobbies for the group in Florida, said the organization is always “on defense,” and that gun control advocates err when they target “law abiding” citizens. That sentiment, and NRA lobbying efforts, forced U.S. Senators to abandon a push for an assault weapons ban Tuesday.
Hammer expressed support Tuesday for Watson’s HB 1355, showing rare agreement between the National Rifle Association and a Democrat pushing for gun control.
It highlighted the one area where both sides of the gun debate have common ground: keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Watson’s bill closes a loophole that allows people who voluntarily commit themselves into a mental treatment facility to continue to buy guns, something prohibited to people who are involuntarily committed.
The spirit of cooperation could be short-lived. Watson, who has supported more controversial gun control measures, said HB 1355 was a “first step.”
Other Democrats have pledged to turn up pressure on Republican leaders if their gun control proposals don’t begin to move soon.
“You don’t file a bill and then sit on it, waiting for divine intervention,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. “Why file something and then sit back and wait for a miracle to happen?”
Meanwhile, pro-gun legislators are moving in the opposite direction. More than 50 Republican co-sponsors have signed on to HM 545, a memorial to Obama stating that Florida will defy any new gun restrictions.
Miami Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this story. Toluse Olorunnipa can be reached at tolorunnipa@MiamiHerald.com or on Twitter at @ToluseO.