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Florida’s Gun-Free Zones Could Be Eliminated; Opponents Call That Madness

If only more people were packing loaded weapons, there would be fewer mass shootings like Orlando’s Pulse nightclub massacre and the carnage committed by another lone gunman at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January.

That’s the thinking behind legislation proposed in the Florida House and Senate —HB 803/SB 908 — to do away with most of the state’s gun-free zones.

But Patti Brigham, co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, called the proposal to allow “guns everywhere absurd and incredibly dangerous.”

“And just why would we want permit holders to take guns into polling places? These gun-happy legislators have gone too far,” Brigham said in a statement. “They are endangering the public, not protecting it.”

The bills would allow concealed-carry gun owners to carry guns in places where they are now forbidden: airports, schools, college campuses, police stations and polling places.

Both sides of the argument claim to have the facts on their side.

Opponents of the legislation point to an Everytown for Gun Safety study released in August 2016 that showed only 17 of the 133 killings that occurred between January 2009 and July 2015 — and were classified as "mass murders" by the FBI – happened in gun-free zones.

However, the Crime Prevention Research Center countered with its own analysis of mass shootings in America that showed 98.4 percent of mass shootings from 1950 through July 2016 occurred in gun-free zones.

Politifact Florida pointed out that the two sides in this debate arrive at different conclusions, in large part because they disagree over the definition of just what is a “mass shooting.”

“Our assessment is that it is difficult to draw broad conclusions about the motivations of the perpetrators of mass shootings or whether they are influenced by gun restrictions,” Politifact Florida concluded.

Numbers and studies aside, Rep. Don Hahnfeldt (R), the sponsor of House Bill 803, told the Miami Herald that gun-free zones “have been a failure” and made “businesses more susceptible to harm and damage by an ill-intended perpetrator.”

Hahnfeldt said HB 803/SB 908 would give people in what are now gun-free zones an opportunity to be better prepared and protect themselves if anyone started shooting.

“So that maybe the next Pulse, the next Fort Lauderdale ... may not happen,” Hahnfeldt said.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R) supports the proposals. He said most mass shootings happen in these gun-free zones.

He agrees with the argument that mass shooters pick locations like the Pulse nightclub because they know none of their victims will be armed.

"Most of these mass shootings take place in arenas where you're not allowed to have a concealed weapons permit," Corcoran told CBS4 in Miami.

Sen. Dennis Baxley (R), who is sponsoring SB 908, said the legislation would also “test the appetite for legislators to eliminate the illusion of gun-free zones.”

“Perpetrators of violence do not care what your rules are and are armed,” Baxley wrote in a text message to the Miami Herald. “This bill eliminates the sterile target we have created with noble intentions.”

President Trump also supports legislation like this. He has promised to get rid of gun-free zones in schools and military bases.

Andy Pelosi, executive director of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus and co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, said HB 803/SB 908 would make what are now gun-free zones more dangerous for law-abiding Floridians.

“Continuing to expand concealed carry places all of our residents at risk,” Pelosi said. “If these bills pass, it’s not a matter of if an innocent person is killed or injured, but when.”

HB803 and SB 908 are only two of the gun-related pieces of legislation that Florida lawmakers will consider when they sit down for their legislative session that begins March 7.

Sen. Greg Steube (R) introduced SB 140. It would also eliminate Florida’s gun-free zones. It would also allow Florida’s 1.7 million permit-holding gun owners to openly carry their weapons in public.

But Steube told reporters in Tallahassee that he might break that bill up into 10 smaller pieces of legislation.

"Just from feeling the tea leaves, it's probably better to attack it piece by piece,” Steube said.

Similar legislation has also been filed in the House that would allow concealed weapons on college campuses and in airport terminals.

Rep. Jake Raburn (R) filed the legislation that would have permitted licensed gun owners to carry their weapons in public a couple of weeks before Esteban Santiago turned the Fort-Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport into a free-fire zone.

Raburn told the Herald that it is hard to say if licensed gun owners carrying weapons in that airport passenger terminal would have been able to prevent the bloodbath.

But at least, he said, the five people killed and the six wounded might have had a chance.

“There’s always the potential — if it were allowed and there were someone in that area that had a concealed weapon — that it could have gone differently,” Raburn said. “I’m not going to say that it would have because my understanding is we’re talking about a span of time that’s less than a minute. It may not have changed anything.”

“But had I been there waiting to pick up my family from the airport,” Raburn added, “and had it happened near me, I would have been prepared to defend myself and my family.”