Guns on Campus Appears to be Dead for 2017 Legislative Session

Powerful GOP lawmaker opposes Steube’s gun bills

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Sen. Greg Steube came fully loaded this legislative session with nearly a dozen gun bills. He got one through a Senate committee Tuesday, but it may be the last to advance.

In a stunning setback for gun rights supporters, Sen. Anitere Flores, one of the most powerful lawmakers in Tallahassee, declared on the very first day of Florida’s two-month legislative session that she likely would not support any of Steube’s 10 other gun bills, leaving them with little chance of moving forward.

“He and I do not see eye-to-eye on probably any of the other gun bills,” said Flores, a Miami Republican. “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.”

Flores is the second-highest ranking Republican in the Senate and a close ally of President Joe Negron. Just as importantly, she is the decisive vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee is the first stop for all of Steube’s gun bills. It has five Republicans and four Democrats, meaning if every Democrat opposes a gun bill it takes just one Republican to kill the legislation.

“Gun issues will continue perhaps to be debated,” Flores said. “I don’t know that they’ll continue to be debated in this committee because these would be bills that I wouldn’t be in support of.”

Flores represents a Democratic-leaning South Florida district. She comfortably won reelection, but Hillary Clinton beat President Donald Trump in the district by 10 percentage points, according to an analysis by Democratic data expert Matthew Isbell.

“We respect each other in this process and we respect the fact that we come from different backgrounds,” Flores said.

That Flores came out so strongly against his gun bills is a blow for Steube, a freshman senator with a reputation as one of Florida’s most ardent gun rights advocates. Steube campaigned on a staunchly conservative platform. He often complained on the campaign trail that his gun bills would pass the House, where he served for six years, and die in the Senate. He vowed to change that if elected, but that now seems unlikely this year.

The Judiciary Committee has been the main roadblock for gun legislation in the Senate. The former chairman, a South Florida Republican who lost his reelection bid to a Democrat, refused to hear a number of gun bills last year. Steube’s appointment to chair the committee seemed to increase the likelihood of gun measures advancing.

Steube noted that two gun bills have cleared the committee this year, the legislation approved Tuesday dealing with carrying concealed weapons at courthouses and a change to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. That’s two more gun bills than last year.

“I certainly think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

That the rest of his gun bills seem dead for now is “disappointing,” Steube added.

“But we’re going to take what wins we can and move forward,” he said.

Among the bills that Flores directly criticized: A proposal to allow concealed weapons on college campuses that has proven highly controversial in recent years and another to allow concealed weapons in airport public areas. The airport carry bill has attracted attention because of a shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport earlier this year. Steube also has a bill allowing open carry of hand guns.

Steube pulled another open carry bill that he views as a compromise on the issue from consideration by the committee after Flores’ comments. It would decrease the penalties for concealed carry permit holders who accidentally flash their weapons in public.

The one gun bill Flores did support Tuesday was a proposal that would allow concealed permit holders to carry weapons in courthouses until they reach security officers, who then would have to store the weapon. But before supporting that bill Flores made Steube promise he would not amend it to touch on any issues beyond concealed carry in courthouses.

“If this bill expands… it’s something I will not vote for,” Flores said.

About two dozen gun control supporters with the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America packed into the committee hearing to oppose Steube’s gun bills. Gun rights advocates, including representatives from the group Florida Carry, were there to support the bills.

Flores wasn’t the only GOP lawmaker on the Judiciary Committee who raised questions about Steube’s gun legislation.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, said he shared his colleague’s concerns.

“I want to echo the sentiments Sen. Flores stated,” Garcia said, adding that there needs to be more focus on mental health issues and gun crimes.

Many mass shootings are committed by mentally ill people, Garcia said.

“We still are missing that conversation when it comes to this issue of the gun debate,” he said.

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