It was a rare moment in American public life: A killers shooting spree had claimed lives young and old, giving rise to a burst of political will to strengthen gun laws.
In November 1998, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state Constitution that allowed counties to mandate background checks for private gun sales closing the so-called gun-show loophole.
Public support for universal background checks had surged over the summer after Tampa resident Hank Earl Carr, a volatile ex-felon who acquired a stockpile of firearms despite his criminal record, fatally shot three law enforcement officers and a 4-year-old boy. The constitutional amendment passed with 72 percent of the vote.
With their newly granted authority, Floridas most populous urban counties, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, rushed to enact ordinances regulating gun shows. From a distance, it looked like a bracing example of voters making their will known on an issue that confounds politicians.
The reality is different. Despite the amendments passage and counties actions, the requirements for criminal record checks on private gun sales are virtually unenforced in Florida.
Law enforcement officials, government attorneys and gun-show organizers say the ordinances are ignored in the seven counties encompassing almost half of Floridas population that currently have them.
Sheriffs deputies and police officers have responsibility for seeing that the background checks are conducted, but acknowledge they do little to ensure compliance. Gun-show organizers say private sellers typically disregard the laws.
Nobodys checking anything, said Randie Rickert, organizer of the Hernando Sportsmans Club gun show.
Hernando County passed an ordinance closing the gun-show loophole in 1999 and repealed it in 2009. During the decade the law was on the books, it was ignored at the clubs gun show, Rickert said.
Its a feel-good law, he said. It had no impact on anything.
The regulations ineffectiveness appears to have several causes. One is inconvenience. While they are required to perform background checks on buyers, private gun sellers in counties with local gun-show laws have no easy way of doing so, critics of the ordinances say.
Officials say the lack of enforcement is also due, paradoxically, to an absence of public concern about the voter-approved background checks.
A 2011 state law that restricted counties authority to regulate guns also led many law enforcement officials to believe mistakenly, according to attorneys familiar with gun laws that county ordinances closing the gun-show loophole were voided.
On the whole, it is an unexpected fate for a campaign that created a meaningful measure of gun regulation in a state famously averse to infringement on Second Amendment rights.
Its a great disappointment, said former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin, who was part of the effort to amend the state Constitution.
Brian Malte, director of mobilization for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, named for a White House press secretary gravely wounded in the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, said local officials failure to enforce their gun-show ordinances is not only troublesome, its dangerous.