The number of background checks accounts for only a portion of all gun owners. Many more bought firearms from private sellers and at gun shows, and there is no federal background check or reporting requirement on those sales, something that President Barack Obama tried to remedy with his unsuccessful gun control bill.
Florida, which lagged behind the national average in gun ownership a decade ago, is now in line with that national average, which a recent Gallup poll put at 47 percent.
“Since President Obama took office, people expected him to get tougher on guns,” Kleck says. “Even though that hasn’t happened yet, a run on gun sales occurred.”
Miami criminal defense attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner, a gun owner and member of the National Rifle Association, said guns have been unregulated in Florida for so long that it’s a daunting — if not impossible — task to now regulate them.
“Yes it’s true there are millions and millions of guns on the street. Honorable people buy them and register them,’’ he said. “The problem is there are millions more that are not registered and you can buy them any day or night of the week on the streets.’’
Death on a bus
Lourdes Guzman-DeJesus was on her way to school with her 7-year-old sister and seven other students in Homestead on Nov. 20 when 15-year-old Jordyn Alexander Howe pulled a .40-caliber pistol out of his backpack on the school bus.
The gun discharged, and a bullet pierced Lourdes’ neck. The 13-year-old, whose nickname was “Gina,” died at the hospital. Howe had grabbed the gun from his parents’ closet and had brought it to school more than once.
He now faces charges of manslaughter and carrying a concealed weapon. His parents, however, have not been held responsible, since authorities said they made a “reasonable’’ effort to keep the gun in a safe place.
Gun control advocates say this is another case that shows how Florida’s gun laws need to be changed so that firearms don’t get into the wrong hands, whether it’s a child or someone angry and unstable, such as the Sandy Hook killer.
Gun advocates, however, challenge the anecdotal evidence of individual cases and believe that an increase in guns doesn’t necessarily lead to an increase in gun-related crimes. Dave Wood, president of the West Palm Beach-based Second Amendment Coalition, said sales at gun shows and shops have “gone gangbusters” in recent years. But according to Wood, those guns don’t land in the hands of murderers.
“It’s unlikely that law-abiding citizens have contributed to this increase” in gun murders, Wood said. “The people who are buying guns after Obama are not the ones committing the murders.”
Ladd Everitt, communications director for the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, disagrees. He said it’s no coincidence that gun murders rose at a time when gun ownership increased in Florida. In addition, Everitt said high-profile “stand your ground” cases have given gun owners greater confidence to settle disputes with firearms.
“The point of the shoot-first law was to embolden people to carry guns out in public,” Everitt said. “This creates more chances for shootings, and Floridians probably feel much more emboldened to take those shots because they know there’s a law that might protect them.”