In The Public Interest

Citizens Demand Gun Controls

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Jacksonville FL, December 1, 2018 – Local gun laws were a hot topic among the public who spoke at the Jacksonville City Council meeting held Tuesday, November 27, 2018, where many citizens repeated their mantra: “Close the gun show loophole.”

During public comments, Northside Coalition leader Ben Frazier invoked this year’s murders of seven-year-olds Tashawn Gallon and Heidy Rivas-Villanueva, as well as recent mass shootings in Jacksonville, in an appeal for measures to stop the city’s escalating gun violence.

Frazier said, “Close the gun show loophole and provide definitive evidence of where all these guns are coming from.”

For: Ben Frazier of the Northside Coalition appeals to City Council to close the gun show loophole. Jacksonville City Council meeting, November 27, 2019. (Captured from City Council live feed.)

A violent February 2018 included the Jacksonville murder of Tashawn Gallon and the Parkland school shooting where Nicolas Cruz killed 17 people . Individuals and members of a grassroots coalition of groups responded with a campaign for City Council to strengthen firearms purchasing laws in Duval county.

The coalition includes local clergy and the faith community, as well as organizations such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Northside Coalition, local chapters of Indivisible, Everytown for Gun Safety, Jacksonville Progressive Coalition, Women’s March Florida – Jacksonville Chapter, and the student-led March for Our Lives.

Gun Violence is a Public Health Issue

A recent article by Stephenie Livingston in the University of Florida News profiled the work of Dr. Marie Crandall, a trauma surgeon at UF Shands Hospital in Jacksonville, who will be publishing a study in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery in early 2019. The study addresses specific zip codes in Jacksonville and links the risk of firearm injury to poverty. Here are some key take-aways from the article:

• “Regardless of efforts by law enforcement and legislation, the risk of firearm injury persists when poverty goes unaddressed, the research team demonstrated in a study of gunshot wounds in youth treated by the research hospital from 1996-2016. (The study is expected to publish in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery in early 2019.)”

• “And we cannot ignore access, she said — these efforts should be paired with concerted legislation action for “sensible licensing” of firearms, which she said includes background checks, decreasing access to high-velocity weapons, age restrictions, and restricting licenses for people with domestic violence offences, prior criminal convictions and certain mental health histories.”

What is the “Gun Show Loophole”?

The so-called gun show loophole exists despite US laws and Florida Statute 790.065 requiring licensed firearms dealers to perform a nationwide background check before allowing any gun purchase, and a mandatory three-day waiting period on handgun purchases under Florida Statute 790.0655.

The problem stems from the fact that the laws only address licensed firearms dealers but fails to regulate sales to prohibited buyers in other public venues. Prohibited buyers include people with felony or dangerous crime convictions, documented serious mental health issues, or a domestic violence conviction. Only buyers with a current concealed carry license may bypass the background check or the three-day waiting period in a handgun sale.

Despite these provisions, Florida law allows sales of guns to ineligible buyers at gun shows, flea markets, online, and other public venues by not requiring the vendors to complete background checks or recognize a three-day waiting period for handguns.

Proponents of legislation to close the gun show loophole point to a recent Times-Union article in which a young offender said, “…it’s as easy to get a gun as it is a bag of Skittles.”

In an analysis of FBI data on mass shootings from 2009-2016, Everytown for Gun Safety reported, “More than one-third of the shootings—34 percent—involved a shooter who was prohibited from possessing firearms.”

Legal Basis for Proposed Legislation

Of the 67 Florida counties, there are currently ten that have enacted legislation to close the gun show loophole. These counties require background checks for all gun sales in public venues and enforcing the waiting period on handgun purchases: Alachua, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Broward, Palm Beach, Sarasota, and Volusia.

The legal basis for these ordinances is a little known 1998 Amendment to Florida’s Constitution Art VIII section 5(b): “Each county shall have the authority to require a criminal history records check and a 3 to 5-day waiting period, excluding weekends and legal holidays, in connection with the sale of any firearm occurring within such county. For purposes of this subsection, the term “sale” means the transfer of money or other valuable consideration for any firearm when any part of the transaction is conducted on property to which the public has the right of access. Holders of a concealed weapons permit as prescribed by general law shall not be subject to the provisions of this subsection when purchasing a firearm.”

The legislation proposed at City Council for Duval County is modeled after Leon County’s April 2018 ordinance. It would restrict gun purchases only for those who do not qualify to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer under U.S. and state law.

The Opposition

During the public comment period of the City Council meeting on November 27, a few citizens spoke in opposition to closing the gun show loophole.

Jo Staats stated she had been “a single mom [and] had no support. During that time, the only way that I could afford to defend myself under the protection of the Second Amendment was by the grace of gun shows.”

Jim Davis, another citizen opposed to closing the gun show loophole, said to the Council, “In D.C. v. Heller and McDonald V. Chicago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment is a fundamental right.”
In a follow up discussion with Jax Lookout, Davis added, “No one likes gun violence, but the Second Amendment governs our right to keep and bear arms. The only way to change the [gun] law is to change the [U.S.] Constitution.”

Against: Jim Davis voices his opposition to closing the gun show loophole. Jacksonville City Council meeting, November 27, 2019. (Captured from City Council live feed.)

A third speaker, Blake Harper, implied closing the gun show loophole is a violation of the state Constitution which would result in a lawsuit.

“[Attorney] Mr. Friday, who has 45% of his practice from defending Second Amendment rights, is suing cities,” said Harper. “A lawsuit would be to his monetary gain if something happens here at City Council which would violate the Florida Constitution.”

Jaxlookout’s investigation determined it is true that Florida’s restrictive 2011 preemption ordinance bans local gun ordinances that go beyond state statutes; however, the 1998 Florida Constitutional Amendment, Art VIII section 5(b) prevails, allowing for counties to impose waiting periods and background checks on gun sales.

What’s Next

A February 2018 Quinnipiac University poll found “Support for universal background checks is itself almost universal, 97 – 2 percent, including 97 – 3 percent among gun owners.”
At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, of those who addressed the gun show loophole, it appeared a solid majority were in favor of legislation regulating gun sales in public venues to require background checks and waiting periods where appropriate.

Women’s March Florida – Jacksonville Chapter Captain Bonnie Hendrix has been working with the coalition to close the gun show loophole since March of this year.
“We have met with eight members of City Council so far. We have a meeting with another Council member in the first week of December,” said Hendrix. “Most say it seems like a good idea, but they are in delay mode due to the upcoming election.”

The November 27, 2018 City Council meeting, including the public comments, can be viewed here .

About the author

Amy Cherie Copeland

Amy Cherie Copeland is a Jacksonville writer and editor who also works as an academic writing tutor at FSCJ. She recently presented her poetry in the Yellow House Surviving to Thriving exhibit, performed an original piece in the 2018 Coming Out Monologues, and published lead letters in the Times-Union on behalf of Women's March Florida - Jacksonville Chapter. Her feature on cancer survivor Mary Miller appears in Donna Hicken's (Deegan) The Good Fight (2004).

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