Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Florida embraces bullets over ballots

Tampa Bay Times

Guns trump votes. To be more specific, Florida’s governor and legislative leadership would rather nurture gunslingers than voters.

For instance, the gang in Tallahassee seems downright excited by two new permissive gun measures likely to pass in the upcoming legislative session.

Never mind opposition from police chiefs, college presidents, campus police, professors and student organizations, the legislative leadership seems hell-bent on adopting a campus carry bill. Then anyone with a concealed weapon permit can pack heat on a college campus.

Plus, there’s an open carry bill, which would allow Floridians with a concealed-weapons permit in Florida — all 1.4 million of them — to carry to carry their guns openly, anywhere they’re already allowed to carry concealed weapons.

Both bills were born out of a slavish regard for the rights of Florida gun owners. That sentiment — greased by the NRA — has given us laws in previous sessions that bar cities and counties from banning guns in parks and playgrounds. Florida’s infamous Stand Your Ground law was hailed as a gun rights measure.

Never mind that a University of South Florida-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey last summer found 48 percent of Floridians would favor, instead, more restrictive gun laws, while only 7 percent thought Florida gun regulations were “too restrictive.” (Another 42 percent considered existing laws “about right”). An overwhelming 73 percent opposed campus carry.

But lawmakers consider gun rights sacred stuff in Florida.

Voting rights? Not so much.

Michael Auslen of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau reported last week on a national trend to make voter registration and voting itself more convenient and attuned to modern sensibilities. Voters in Arkansas, Arizona, Tennessee, Wyoming and in Travis County, Texas, can now cast ballots at any designated voting center in their home county, rather than at only their assigned precinct polling place.

Oregon, Washington and Colorado use mail-in ballots. Alaska allows online voting. Eleven states and the District of Columbia allow voters to register on Election Day.

All these measures were designed to enhance voter rights and voter turnout — neither of which are much of a priority in Florida.

Last year, the Legislature did pass an online voter registration bill (not effective until fall 2017, conveniently after the 2016 presidential election). But that passed despite the fervent opposition of Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

Detzner, a beer lobbyist before Gov. Rick Scott appointed him secretary of state, was the same guy who famously bungled an attempt to “cleanse” the voter registration rolls of 180,000 supposed non-citizens before the 2012 election. But when county election supervisors examined his list, most of those names — many of them Hispanic — actually belonged to eligible voters.

The beer meister’s failed purge was just one of several measures he championed (including restricting voter registration groups and shortening early voting for the 2012 election) designed to depress voter turnout, particularly among minority voters.

Apparently, voting’s not like that other sacred right. Not in this state. “Lock and load” means a lot more in Florida than “get out the vote.”