Florida Democrats’ special session on gun control shot down

by | Jun 30, 2016

After the mass shooting in Orlando, Democrats in the Florida Legislature called for a special session to enact gun control legislation, but they’re finding little support among Republicans, who are dismissing the request as a political stunt.

Florida law allows special sessions to be called in two ways by the Legislature: 1) the Senate President and Speaker of the House can issue a joint proclamation, or 2) twenty percent of the members can submit requests to the Department of State, which would then trigger the Department of State to poll the entire membership. At least three-fifths of the Legislature must affirmatively vote for the special session in order for one to be called.

That’s what the Democrats did: earlier this month, they submitted their request for a special session for the purpose of “reviewing and revising Florida laws and policies to address the loophole allowing known or suspected terrorists to purchase and own firearms in the state of Florida.” With the twenty percent threshold met, Secretary of State Ken Detzner sent out letters to poll the entire Legislature on Tuesday.

The responses are due by noon on Tuesday, July 5, 2016, but it’s looking highly unlikely that a special session will be approved. Multiple Republican legislators, including those in leadership, have told The Capitolist that they are voting “no” and were very critical of the Democrats’ efforts.

Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood), who represents a Seminole County district just north of Orlando, said that he was “appalled and disappointed” to see Democrat State Senators having a press conference just two days after the attack on “a historically divisive issue like gun control.”

“At at time when we should have been focused on uniting Floridians and focusing on the suffering families, they sadly chose to divide us,” said Plakon, “before any of the victims had even been laid to rest.”

“This is nothing but a rather untoward and cheesy political stunt and it will rightfully fail,” he said, stating that he would definitely vote against the special session. Rep. Eric Eisnaugle (R-Orlando) also confirmed via text message that he was voting “no.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) not only voted no, he returned his vote with a scathing letter attacking the Democrats’ effort as “nothing more than a political ploy designed to capitalize off the horrific tragedy that occurred in Orlando.” (Gaetz’s letter, along with the poll letter sent by Detzner, is posted at the end of this article.)

Gaetz also criticized the special session request on Second Amendment grounds:

Let me be clear — I absolutely want to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. My vote would be different if this were a special session to pass Open Carry, a measure which would actually help law abiding Floridians protect themselves from terrorists, criminals, and killers…

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees one of the most important rights we enjoy as Americans — the right to bear arms in defense of ourselves, our families, and our property, and the right to defend ourselves against the government. As a member of the Florida Legislature, I have made it my mission to strengthen gun rights for law abiding Floridians so they can protect themselves from harm.

Sen. Greg Evers (R-Milton) also opposed the special session on Second Amendment grounds, posting on his Facebook page on Wednesday:

I will vote “NO” on the question of a special session called by those who want to limit 2nd Amendment rights in Florida. In the HIGHLY unlikely event I am outvoted, I will personally use the special session to introduce bills in support of “Open Carry” and “Carry Anywhere.”

Another objection raised by Republicans lawmakers included the near impossibility for a state legislature to act based on a federally-regulated watch list. Plakon told The Capitolist that Florida doesn’t even have access to the federal databases necessary to enact the legislation the Democrats said they wanted.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) also cited the ineffectiveness of state law to address this issue as a reason for his opposition to the special session. In a statement obtained by The Capitolist, Crisafulli said:

I know I speak for Representatives of both parties when I say that if there was a meaningful, constitutional, and implementable state law to prevent future terrorist attacks, we would certainly pass it. I strongly support a ban on terrorists’ ability to purchase firearms. Since the list is maintained at the federal level, the state cannot pass an effective or constitutional law implementing such a ban.

I encourage each Representative to follow their conscience on whether or not they want a Special Session. I will vote no on convening a Special Session because I believe the effort makes a false promise to Floridians and is motivated by partisan politics.

Several Republican legislators and their staffers also mentioned the cost issue. Florida law allows special sessions to last up to twenty days before needing an extension, and about two weeks is common. The ballpark figure used to estimate the costs of a special session is about $40,000 per day, meaning that if the Democrats got their way, Florida taxpayers would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, just to debate a bill that cannot actually solve the problem.

“They don’t even have a viable bill — they have no plan,” said one Republican house staffer who asked not to be named, adding that the $40,000/day figure was a little out of date, and the actual cost would probably be higher.

Florida Democrats aren’t going to get their special session for gun control, but we’ll give them praise for acting far more mature than their Congressional colleagues. At least the Florida Democrats followed the proper rules and procedures, unlike the temper tantrum “sit-in” staged by Congressional Democrats last week…complete with catered meals and pillows and blankets.

UPDATE: It doesn’t look like Republican legislators need to worry about their constituents being unhappy with them for not supporting the special session. Plakon just called The Capitolist and told us that his official legislative email received 16 messages in favor of a special session…and 1,508 against.

Disclosure: Greg Evers for Congress is a client of The Capitolist Publisher Brian Burgess’s media consulting company, Right Hook Consulting.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.

Photo credit: Michael Saechang via Flickr.

Florida State Representative Matt Gaetz letter re special session by Sarah Rumpf

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