The lack of background checks for private sales is a recipe for disaster, he said, preserving access to guns for convicted felons and the dangerously mentally ill.
When you have 72 percent of Florida voters saying they want to be able to have background checks at gun shows, they expect its being done, Malte said. And when they find out its not being done, I expect there will be a call to action.
While disappointing to gun-control advocates, the states experience might be instructive. This month the U.S. Senate, acting in the wake of another tragic shooting, is expected to consider legislation that would close the gun-show loophole nationally.
On May 19, 1998, Hank Earl Carr, 30, killed his girlfriends 4-year-old son with a rifle shot to the head. Before the day was done, he would also shoot to death two Tampa detectives who tried to arrest him, Rick Childers and Randy Bell, and a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, James Crooks. He ended by taking his own life.
Carr had done prison time on charges including assault, burglary and violently resisting police, and was barred under federal law from owning guns. However, police determined through weapons traces that he bought many guns through private sales.
Unlike licensed gun dealers, private sellers arent required by federal or Florida law to perform background checks on buyers. Since unlicensed sellers often congregate at weekend gun shows, the lack of mandatory criminal record checks for their transactions is called the gun-show loophole. (Licensed dealers who appear at gun shows are still required to perform background checks.)
Several months before Carrs rampage, the states Constitution Revision Commission had given preliminary approval to Amendment 12, which sought to close the gun-show loophole. The measure, after approval by voters, altered the Constitution to allow counties to require criminal record checks for all gun sales on property to which the public has the right of access. The language targeted sales at gun shows, which are often held at county fairgrounds and convention centers.
It was just the right thing to do. Having that loophole is crazy, said former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who served on the commission.
The amendment also permitted counties to establish waiting periods of up to five days on private sales an extension of the states existing three-day waiting period.
With the Carr case fresh in mind, roughly 2.7 million voters supported Amendment 12 in November 1998. At least 11 counties eventually passed ordinances requiring background checks or waiting periods for private gun sales, though some including Hernando, Citrus, Orange and Charlotte later repealed them.
Frankly, I dont even remember it being that terribly controversial, said Sallie Parks, who was chairwoman of the Pinellas County Commission when the ordinance was passed.
Today, seven counties Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota and Volusia have ordinances requiring background checks for private gun sales.
Those counties have 8.8 million residents, or 45 percent of Floridas population, making the effects of the county ordinances potentially far-reaching. But performing background checks on all gun sales is not as easy as it sounds.