Why Florida lawmakers are duking it out over guns

Written by Staff Writer at CNN From CNN Home

The US state of Florida is traditionally a hot spot for tourists during the hot summer months. Its sunny landscape and boisterous beaches attract visitors from around the world.

But the Sunshine State — which hosts the nation’s sixth largest economy — also has a dark side. According to data from the National Violent Death Reporting System , more than 1,600 people die in homicides in Florida each year.

But lawmakers are looking to put a stop to those killings by preventing convicted felons from having access to weapons

CNN’s Oceania Tyrol reports

Florida is one of nine states that ban convicted felons from owning a gun. Some do so for as many as 15 years, and require proof of good behavior after their release to regain their right to purchase.

But after laws passed in Florida’s highest courts in 2010, the state’s one-gun-a-month policy was overturned.

In its place, the common policy in the country is one of “permissive buybacks” or “carry-your-own.” Several states, including Florida, have been known to pay citizens for allowing law enforcement to take their guns away during times of crisis.

Earlier this year, Tallahassee police announced it would be paying people cash for their handguns, and officers have on occasions retrieved the firearms with relative ease.

Not everyone thinks the approach is the answer

“I think it’s a fix that probably needs to be made and it’s a fix that should be made statewide,” said Natalie Del Percio, a law professor at Florida State University.

Focusing on criminology and criminal justice since 2005, Del Percio argues that while criminals will always have access to guns, restrictions on firearm ownership by individuals serves to reduce instances of gun violence.

Criminal background checks

Not so for offenders who are less susceptible to detection through law enforcement and gun sellers, she says.

“If you put off a person from being able to buy a gun, you reduce the likelihood that they will be able to commit an act of violence,” she said.

But Florida Representative Jeff Brandes, who authored the state’s concealed weapons bill, argues that without better detection, criminals are unlikely to relinquish their guns to law enforcement.

“And we should help law enforcement do that because their one chance to save lives is to seize the guns, because that’s what can be done,” Brandes said.

He also questioned why Florida’s laws, which require people to retain custody of their guns after their sentences have ended, are so strong when violent individuals flee to other states, with more lax gun laws.

Legislators remain divided

While Florida remains at the forefront of offering a safe haven for gun ownership, not all local legislators are on board.

Last year in Connecticut, a gun buyback program took some 5,000 guns off the streets of Hartford after a spike in violence. However, critics of the program, who argue that it benefits only criminals, are trying to kill it off by lobbying their colleagues in the state legislature to do away with the initiative.

Brandes, who joined the protest against buybacks, says that those advocating to scrap the program need to explain to a trusting public why they are the ones being protected — rather than criminals.

“I think that’s the fundamental problem,” he said. “They don’t seem to be grasping the problem.”

Del Percio believes the best way to address the issue is by taking a smarter approach to criminal background checks.

“We should be letting people know as soon as someone is convicted of a violent crime that they should not be able to have a gun,” she said.

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