A simple thing
Unlike licensed firearm dealers, the private sellers regulated by county gun laws have no direct access to buyers criminal histories.
Doing background checks on private gun buyers involves several steps, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger. The private seller must first sign the firearm over into the inventory of a licensed dealer. The dealer then conducts the background check.
For a $5 fee, FDLE checks the potential purchasers name in a database that tracks nationwide criminal records, lists of people declared mentally defective in court and individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders.
If the buyer is not approved, the dealer must also perform a background check on the seller before returning the gun. If the seller is not approved, the dealer takes control of the weapon.
Even some law enforcement officials suggest the ordinances were poorly thought out.
About five years ago, concerned about the large number of private sales at local gun shows, the Palm Beach County Sheriffs Office looked into stepping up enforcement of its background-check mandate, said spokeswoman Teri Barbera.
The agency asked an attorney at the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to examine the local law. The lawyers unofficial opinion: It was written very poorly and would be problematic to prosecute, Barbera said.
Among the problems Barbera cited were the inability of private sellers to directly conduct background checks on gun buyers and inconsistencies with federal law. She said deputies settled on asking gun-show promoters to display the county ordinance on a sign.
We do not believe anyone was ever charged with violating it, she said.
It is unclear whether the ordinances were applied more vigorously in the early years after counties adopted them.
Ive never heard of one person ever being accused of it, arrested for it, or anything, said Victor Bean, who puts on gun shows in Miami-Dade County.
While he does not require them to perform background checks, Bean said he always advises private sellers to size up their customers as best they can.
Its a doggone good idea to make sure you know who youre selling that gun to, he said.
The gun-show loophole remains a matter of public interest in Florida. Earlier this year, the Pasco County Commission briefly considered passing an ordinance requiring background checks for private gun sales, only to table the matter.
On Wednesday, Hillsborough County commissioners began a discussion about potentially banning assault rifles and requiring universal background checks. Unmentioned was that the county already has an ordinance requiring background checks for private gun sales that is not being enforced.
Debate is also taking place in Washington, where President Barack Obama supports closing the gun-show loophole nationally. Like Floridas 1998 debate, the present national conversation was spurred by a spasm of gun violence: the fatal shooting of 20 children and six adults in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Gun-control advocates point to states where the laws have already been adopted without widespread problems.
According to the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, background checks are required for some or all private gun sales in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia.
But universal background-check proposals have bred skepticism, sometimes in unexpected places.
Mike Crooks, a 67-year-old Clewiston rancher, lost his 23-year-old son, Highway Patrol trooper James Crooks, in Carrs shooting rampage. But Crooks said he has grown suspicious of calls for further gun regulation. He blames a lax criminal justice system for letting Carr out of prison, rather than inadequate oversight of firearms.
Im real skeptical of any new gun laws, Crooks said.
Not everyone touched by Carrs violence agrees.
Kacey Bell, a 25-year-old Fort Myers resident, was 10 when Carr killed her father, a Tampa police officer. She supports universal background checks at the national level, and said she sympathizes with survivors of the Sandy Hook school shooting who want to see gun laws reformed.
Ive been personally affected by [gun violence], so I know how those people feel who lost a loved one, Bell said. People are getting their hands on a gun who shouldnt.
Florida counties that require background checks should obviously enforce them, she said.
I think if they did that to begin with, my father might still be alive.
Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@ tampabay.com or 727-445-4157.