Democratic state lawmakers urge legislation banning sales of assault weapons

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, February 16, 2018, 7:58 PM EST

Democratic state lawmakers are seizing on the Parkland school shooting as a watershed event that should force consideration of long-stalled legislation to ban sales of assault weapons in Florida.

The AR-15 semiautomatic rifle used in the shooting is among the firearms that would be subject to the sales moratorium proposed in SB 196 and HB 219. Both bills have yet to get a hearing.

"This is in the schools, the public schools, of our state. If we can't muster the courage to do the right thing now, we may never be able to do it," said Sen. Perry Thurston (D-Ft. Lauderdale), whose district neighbors Parkland.

Despite the urgency of the Democrats' pleas, however, it remains unlikely the legislature's Republican leaders will undergo a sudden conversion of their longstanding philosophical objection to increased gun control.

When questioned by reporters about the assault weapon sales ban proposal, Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart) pivoted to what he believes is a need for increased mental health and campus security funding for Florida's public schools.

He added that Wednesday's shooting shouldn't result in restricting Floridians' Second Amendment rights.

"My focus is on making sure that lawful citizens who are obeying the law and are entitled to their constitutional rights have access, appropriate access, to firearms," Negron said.

Democrats are also up against the organizational heft of the gun lobby, which has proven to be a cash cow for Republicans seeking state office.

But Thurston, for one, remains optimistic that a sea change is possible in the final three weeks of the legislature's 2018 regular session.

"When something hits in your own backyard or, in this case for me in Broward County, in my own front yard, I think that the attention has to be some type of change."