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Florida Republican Blocks NRA-Backed Gun Legislation

Betsy Custis, right, and others attend a march in honor of Justine Damond at Beard's Plaissance Park, Thursday, July 20, 2017, in Minneapolis. Damond, of Australia, was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer on Saturday, July 15 after calling 911 to report what she believed was a possible assault. (Aaron Lavinsky /Star Tribune via AP)

Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham used the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre to call for stricter gun control laws.

“A year after the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history — after the murder of 49 young people — Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature haven’t done a thing to curb gun violence in our state,” said the former congresswoman from Tallahassee.

“Instead, after every shooting, Republicans respond ‘guns, guns, guns — we need more guns,’” Graham said.

It is true that Republican state Sen. Greg Steube sponsored 11 of the 27 legislative proposals that were opposed by the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

Yet it was a Republican who stopped at least ten of Steube’s bills.

Sen. Anitere Flores (R), a member of the Judiciary Committee, vowed to do whatever she could to block as many of Steube’s initiatives as possible.

“He and I do not see eye-to-eye on probably any of the other gun bills,” Flores, a Miami Republican, told the Herald-Tribune. “I do not support having guns on campus, I do not support having guns in airports, I do not support having guns in school zones. I don’t support those things and Sen. Steube feels differently, and that’s fine but this is where we are this year.”

That incurred the wrath of Marion Hammer, United Sportsmen of Florida executive director and past president of the NRA.

“Sen. Flores is using her position as the swing vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee to block pro-gun legislation from getting out of committee,” Hammer said in a March statement.

“I cannot tell you why Sen. Flores suddenly turned on law-abiding gun owners because I do not know. (Until yesterday she had a 100% rating with NRA and USF),” Hammer added.

Patti Brigham, co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, said her group was as surprised as Hammer was, but pleased to find Sen. Flores standing with them.

“She proved to be very courageous standing up to the gun lobby, and to Sen. Steube,” Brigham told the South Florida Gay News. “Of course we’re not happy that our bills weren’t heard, but we’re bringing them back next session…and feeling good that the bad bills were once again defeated.”

Equality Florida, an LGBT-rights advocacy group, is a member of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

“We understand that hate violence disproportionately impacts the LGBT community and that access to rational gun laws are a part of addressing the carnage that has become far too normalized,” said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida.

But Chad Hendrix, a member of the Fort Myers, Fla., chapter of Pink Pistols, an LGBT group that teaches its members how to use guns in self-defense, doesn’t agree. He carries a .40-caliber Glock with a laser pointer and told WGCU there should have been more guns inside the Pulse nightclub, not fewer.

“Had there been people in there who were armed in there, it’s very likely that [Omar Mateen] would’ve been shot down like the dog that he was,” Hendrix said. “You’re the first responder, because you’re there. The police and the ambulance, they’re second responders. They clean up everything and deal with the aftermath.”

“It’s just terrible that the world has come to this,” Debbie Patterson, a member of Hendrix’s group, told WGCU. “Those people in that club should’ve had the right to defend themselves.”

It isn’t like Democrats didn’t try to get gun control legislation to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk. State Sen. Linda Stewart (D) introduced a proposal to ban assault weapons.

But she knew “it was dead before it was even introduced.”

“The problem is we have to sell it to all of the elected officials and we still have a very big National Rifle Association (NRA) push for anything that we file,” Stewart told the Independent. “It doesn’t matter what it is, just anything that deals with guns or the restriction of any kind of guns.”

Sen. Gary Farmer (D) complained “a number of good gun safety bills never even got a hearing,” as he refiled legislation that would require background checks for firearms purchased at gun shows. It would also forbid gun sales that are not conducted by licensed firearms dealers.

“It’s just primarily to send a message that we’re not going to lay down on this issue. We’re going to continue to put this issue forward whenever we get an opportunity,” said Farmer.

Still, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said largely because of the Pulse massacre; the gun rights lobby was not as successful as it has been in years past.

“It’s a win. They didn’t get anything they wanted in this last legislature, which is kind of a sea change,” Guillermo Smith said.

Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith admitted that she and other gun-control advocates did not have much success in the state’s legislature this year. But Smith also said they would not surrender.

“One of the things about the LGBT movement is that we have to take the long view,” she said. “We organized in a state where Anita Bryant put hate on the map, so we’ve always had to believe that educating people, telling our stories has an impact short term and long term.”