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Palm Beach County can’t sue Legislature over gun law, appeals court rules

Friday, June 28th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Palm Beach County commissioners won’t fight a ruling from the 1st District Court of Appeals upholding a lower court decision in their battle to undo a gun law that imposes fines and other penalties against local officials.

The appeals court agreed with Leon County judge John Cooper, who ruled last year that the county can’t sue the Florida House or the Florida Senate over the 2011 law that bans local officials from imposing gun laws.

The 2011 law imposes a $5,000 fine and removal from office for local officials who violate it.

A county attorney on Friday said the commission won’t appeal Thursday’s ruling but the suit against Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi will proceed.

County commissioners argued that the law is unconstitutional and that the sanctions “are simply a form of political bullying that serves no governmental purpose” and have a “chilling effect.”

Hammer: NRA will not ‘be reasonable’ about gun control

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer stood her ground at a Capital Tiger Bay club this afternoon, blasting President Obama’s background check proposal, sharing her childhood history and saying that the NRA will never “be reasonable” when it comes to compromising about gun rights.

Hammer, a former national president of the gun rights organization, surprised many at the luncheon this afternoon when she revealed that she is a lifelong Democrat. The Capitol city is dominated by Democrats.

Hammer has been the NRA’s Florida lobbyist for 39 years and became the first woman to head the organization largely because of her successes in the Sunshine State, where she pushed a number of first-in-the-nation gun bills, including the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.

Hammer’s influence is considered responsible for Florida having some of the most lenient gun laws in the country.

Hammer said she was raised by her grandparents in South Carolina after her father was killed in Okinawa. She said her grandfather gave her a .22-gauge rifle at age six. She used her nickel-a-week allowance to buy three cents worth of shells and spent the remainder on penny candy, she said.

And she said she hoarded her ammunition because her grandfather sometimes didn’t have a nickel to spare.

And Hammer shared the roots of her hard-nosed approach on gun issues.

“My grandfather used to tell me there’s nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow streak and dead possums,” she said.

Hammer blasted lawmakers, including Obama, who demand gun regulation in the aftermath of shooting tragedies like Sandy Hook instead of blaming “poor parenting” or “misguided closure” of mental health facilities.

“When people get fat, do you blame forks and spoons?” she said.

Asked why the NRA rejects reasonable compromises like limiting the number of shells in magazines, Hammer elicited her homespun toughness.

“When we compromise, it’s only the first step and they always want more,” she said.

Hammer said the debate in the U.S. Senate regarding gun control was an example of “anti-gunners’” attempts to take guns away.

“When the NRA tries to be reasonable, we end up losing far more than anybody ever dreamed. We will be strong. We will be firm. And we will not be reasonable,” she said.

League of Women Voters hears about guns, Louboutins and elections

Thursday, April 11th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The League of Women Voters of Florida heard from both sides on the gun debate and elections and ethics reform during their annual gathering in the Capitol this morning.

National Rifle Association Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer addressed the crowd after Quincy Police Chief Walter McNeil, a former president of the International Police Chiefs Association who’s helped the White House craft a gun control policy.

It’s the first time Hammer’s been asked to appear before the League in her nearly four decades of lobbying.

She told the group, which backs stricter gun control measures, that semi-automatic weapons function the same as traditional guns but look fancier.

“It’s technology that’s been around for over 100 years and the only diffrerence is cosmetics. The cosmetics are new,” Hammer said. She said that a gun with the plastic stock replaced by a wooden stock would fire the same way.

“That’s no different than a lady in an elegant dress and nylon stockings and Christian Louboutin high-heeled shoes and expensive jewelry changing clothes into blue jeans, a sweatshirt, Nikes and a Timex watch. The only difference is the way she looks,” she said.

Hammer also said that Florida’s first-in-the-nation “Stand Your Ground” law does not need to be changed. Gov. Rick Scott appointed a task force to look into the law in response to an outcry over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed black teenager killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

“If criminals don’t want to get shot, they should leave people alone,” Hammer said.

Rep. Mark Pafford, celebrating his 47th birthday on Thursday, spoke about elections and health care.
(more…)

Rep. Berman uses poll showing overwhelming support for background checks to help her gun bill

Thursday, March 21st, 2013 by Dara Kam

Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, is hoping a new Quinnipiac University poll showing that 91 percent of Floridians support universal background checks for gun purchases will help her gun bill (HB 1343).

Berman and Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, have filed proposals that would require universal background checks for all gun sales or transfers in Florida. But it’s unlikely that either bill will even get a hearing despite what appears to be overwhelming support by Florida voters.

Berman sent a letter to House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and the rest of the 120 members of the Florida House asking them to co-sponsor her measure.

The poll “clearly shows that our constituents want us to address this issue,” Berman, a lawyer, wrote.
“With session in full swing, we need to act swiftly. In light of the recent tragedies, it is important that the Legislature acknowledges that Floridians are counting on us.”

NRA-backed bill closes loophole allowing mentally ill to buy guns

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Lawmakers are trying to close a loophole that allows individuals who have been declared an imminent danger to themselves or others to purchase firearms.

The measure – the only one of a slew of proposals sponsored by Democrats that has the blessing of the National Rifle Association – addresses a “huge gap in the law,” Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Leifman told the House Criminal Justice Committee this morning before its unanimous passage.

Under current Florida law, only mentally ill individuals who have been deemed an imminent danger and who have been involuntarily committed to treatment after being Baker Acted are added to a national database prohibiting them from purchasing guns.

But just a fraction – about one percent – of the 115,000 Baker Acts in Florida last year resulted in involuntary commitment. The other 99 percent of mentally ill individuals voluntarily submitted to treatment, meaning they could purchase guns as soon as they are out of the hospital.

“It makes no sense now that if you’ve been declared by two doctors that you are an imminent danger to yourself or others, why should you be able to go out and purchase a gun? If you’re suicidal, it’s an insanity. It’s just a horror waiting to happen,” Judge Leifman, who served as the Florida Supreme Court’s advisor on Criminal Justice and Mental Health.

Closing the loophole may prevent tragedies such as yesterday’s suicide at the University of Central Florida this week, Leifman said. Police say UCF dropout James Oliver Seevakumaran, who was found dead in his room, planned an attack before killing himself.

“These things don’t just happen. People have histories of depression. They have histories of mental illnesses. And when they get to the point where they’re imminently a danger to themselves or others, I think it behooves all of us to prohibit people at that point from purchasing the gun,” Leifman said.

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said the bill was necessary.

“People with mental illnesses who are determined to be a danger to self or others are scamming the system. Many of them have been Baker Acted five, 10, 20 times. They never get into the system to prevent them from purchasing a firearm,” Hammer said.

Palm Beach County Democrats file universal background gun check bill

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Rep. Lori Berman, Sen. Maria Sachs, Rep. Bobby Powell

Acknowledging their proposal to close a “gun show loophole” is a long shot, two Democratic Palm Beach County lawmakers are hoping their identical bills will at least create a debate about the issue during the 2013 legislative session now underway.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, and Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, pitched their identical “Universal Background Check Act” bills (HB 1343, SB 1640) that would require background check every time a gun is sold.

“I am not so sold on the idea that this bill is going to pass. I’m being very candid with you,” Sachs told reporters after a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “But let’s have the discussion. Let’s bring everybody to the table and let’s have this discussion so that we have a gun policy in this state that’s reflective of the diversity of the state.”

Currently, a person buying a weapon in a gun store must pass law enforcement background checks, but persons buying arms at gun shows or privately from an owner do not, meaning they could be felons or otherwise prohibited from owning weapons.

Sachs and Berman, joined by county commissioners Mary Lou Berger, Paulette Burdick and Shelley Vana, former commissioner Burt Aaronson and state Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, said they both support Second Amendment rights.

But Berman cited figures from the Coalition to End Gun Violence that showed that background checks are only completed on about 60 percent of the gun sales in the country.

“The issue is that we need to stop the proliferation of people having guns and we need to make sure it’s all being done in a correct, proper and legal manner and that anybody who’s buying a gun has to do it through the proper channels. And that’s what this bill tries to address,” she said.

The bill would require anyone who wants to transfer or sell a gun to use a licensed gun dealer to conduct the transaction. The dealer would be responsible for the background check. If the buyer is ineligible to purchase the gun, the dealer would have to run a background check on the seller in order to return it.

If neither person passes the background requirements, the dealer would have to turn over the gun to the local sheriff within 24 hours.

“This is not a gun show loophole bill. It is a universal background check bill. And it is so brazen it even includes confiscation of firearms,” said National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, a former president of the national association.

But Vana, a former state representative, said the bill makes sense.

“This is a no-nonsense, non-radical method of trying to rein in the terror that has rained down on our citizens,” Vana said.

Hammer says federal law already makes it a felony to sell a gun to anyone a seller knows or reasonably should have known is prohibited from purchasing a firearm.

The bill goes way beyond “fixing a perceived problem,” Hammer said.

“It’s not about keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. It’s about making criminals out of law abiding people and taking their guns.”

‘Dream Defenders’ kick off 2013 session with protest

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A coalition of students carrying signs and chanting “The state is ours” protested Tuesday morning laying out their agenda and creating a disruption in the historically celebratory advent of the 60-day legislative session highlighted by Gov. Rick Scott’s State of the State speech.

The “Dream Defenders,” made up of students from several Florida universities and backed by the SEIU, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center, are demanding that lawmakers repeal or reform of the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law and the elimination of “zero tolerance” policies in public schools.

The group chanted and sang on the fourth floor rotunda as the opening day ceremonies began in advance of Scott’s joint address.

The group organized in response to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, last year. Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense, but a judge has not yet decided if the law allowing people to use deadly force when they feel threatened applies in Zimmerman’s case. The law allows provides immunity from prosecution or arrest.

“Even today the life of a black boy or brown boy in this state is worth less than the bullet lodged in his chest,” Dream Defenders executive director Phillip Agnew, a Florida A&M University graduate who lives in Miami, said at a press conference surrounded by dozens of supporters wearing black T-shirts imprinted with “Can We Dream Together?” in white.

Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Senate President Don Gaetz, all Republicans, have said they support the Stand Your Ground law, but Democratic lawmakers have filed a slew of bills that would amend or repeal it.

But Agnew said he thinks the national attitude towards guns has changed in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shootings.

“We want a repeal. We’ll settle for a reform. The confines of that law are loose. If you create any bit of fear in me, I’m sorry ma’am, I can take you out,” Agnew said. “I don’t believe anybody any person in here believes that was the law was supposed to be and certainly not lack and brown people.”

The group will maintain a presence in the Capitol throughout the session, Agnew said.

“This is just a starting point for us. We’ll be here throughout the session…to ensure that some of these things pass.”

Scott ‘Stand Your Ground’ task force releases final recommendations

Friday, February 22nd, 2013 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott’s task force examining the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law officially released its final recommendations today, essentially saying the law giving citizens the right to defend themselves with deadly force without the duty to retreat when they feel threatened should remain intact.

Scott appointed the task force after a national outcry sparked by last year’s Feb. 26 death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black, 17-year-old shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claimed he shot Martin in self-defense, shining a spotlight on the state’s first-in-the-nation Stand Your Ground law that allows individuals to use deadly force when they feel threatened and provides immunity from prosecution. A judge has not yet decided whether the Stand Your Ground applies in the case against Zimmerman, who was arrested charged with murder after Scott appointed a special prosecutor.

Scott’s “Citizen Safety and Protection” task force held meetings around the state and approved the draft recommendations in November.

The group is asking the Legislature to consider:
_ Defining the portion in the law that allows individuals to use Stand Your Ground as long as they are not engaged in “unlawful activity.”
_ Give law enforcement agencies more specific instructions about what neighborhood crime prevention programs and their volunteers can do.
_ Whether immunity from prosecution in criminal and civil actions applies to innocent bystanders.

Altamonte Springs Republican state Sen. David Simmons, a co-sponsor of the 2005 law who served on the panel, has filed a bill (SB 930) that includes two of those suggestions but does not address innocent bystanders.

House and Senate Democrats, including Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, have filed a slew of bills that would amend the law or repeal it altogether but GOP legislative leaders say they want the law to remain as is.

And task force is recommending that

NRA blasts Obama’s call for gun control

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 by Dara Kam

President Obama’s call for gun control will lead to “government confiscation of legal firearms,” and worse, according to the National Rifle Association.
The NRA posted a response to Obama’s State of the Union address on YouTube, citing Justice Department memos that said an assault weapons ban won’t work without mandatory buyback programs.


In the video, NRA Executive Director Chris Cox urges gun owners to call Congress and tell them to block the president’s gun control plan.
Cox also cites government documents that say universal background checks would work best with gun registration, something he calls a “unprecedented” breach of promise.
Obama received resounding applause last night during his speech as victims of gun violence looked on while the president repeatedly demanded that “they deserve a vote” on gun control.

Federal court schedules oral arguments in Florida “Docs and Glocks” case

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A federal appellate court in Atlanta has scheduled oral arguments late this spring in a case over a Florida law barring doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership,

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit will hear oral arguments during the week of May 20, according to a lawyer representing a group of doctors that sued the state over the 2011 law.

A federal judge in Florida permanently blocked the National Rifle Association-backed law from going into effect last year, ruling that it unconstitutionally violates doctors right to freedom of speech.

Gov. Rick Scott appealed U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke’s ruling that rejected that state’s arguments that the law unfairly discriminates against gun owners.

President Obama recently issued an executive order clarifying that the federal health care law known as “Obamacare” does not prohibit doctors or health care providers from asking about guns.

Trayvon Martin’s mother, black lawmakers push repeal of Stand Your Ground

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Sybrina Fulton joined two Democratic state lawmakers pushing a repeal of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law invoked by George Zimmerman, neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Fulton’s 17-year-old unarmed son Trayvon Martin nearly one year ago.

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, have filed a proposal (HB 4009) that would strip the 2005 law from the books. Martin’s shooting sparked a national outcry that focused a spotlight on Florida’s first-in-the-nation law allows people to use deadly force if they feel threatened and provides immunity from prosecution.

“How many lives do we have to lose? How many children have to be killed? How many times are we going to bury our loved ones and not do anything about it? It is important that we do something about this law. As a parent I just don’t quite understand how someone can be a make-believe cop, pursue my son who had every right to be in that neighborhood, chase him, get in a confrontation with him, shoot and kill him and not be arrested,” Fulton said at a press conference in the Capitol on Wednesday. “Something has to be done. We have to put our collective minds together and we have to strategize and we have to make changes to this law. We need to get rid of this law. We need to do something seriously about this law. As a parent, I wouldn’t want you to stand I my shoes. Because it is hard. It’s difficult.”

Zimmerman was arrested 44 days after the Feb. 26 shooting after Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor in the case. Trayvon Martin would have been 18 years old on Feb. 5, Williams noted.

Fulton’s lawyer Benjamin Crump called the law vague and confusing for law enforcement officials and should be repealed.

“Every Tom, Dick and Harry who kills somebody is saying I was standing my ground,” Crump said.

Scott appointed a task force to look into the law. Their recommendations include minor tweaks to the law but no major overhaul, and it is unlikely that the GOP-controlled legislature will take it off the books.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat who represents the district in which Fulton lives, blasted Scott’s task force for failing to appoint open critics of the law, including himself, and failing to hold a meeting in his district.

“Get rid of the law,” he said.

Bullard acknowledged that the NRA’s influence could make the repeal a difficult sell.

But, he said: “How many people have to die in order to make a change?”

President Obama calls for gun regulation

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

President Barack Obama outlined his plan for gun regulation in the wake of the massacre of 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday. Authorities say gunman Adam Lanza used a military-style Bushman rifle to kill the children, ages six and seven, as well as his mother and himself.

Obama called on Congress to “reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every single day” by reinstating the federal assault on semi-automatic weapons, limiting the number of bullets in ammunition clips and requiring background checks before anyone can purchase a gun.

Here’s Obama’s prepared remarks at a news conference in Washington this morning. After the jump, read how he responded to reporters’ questions about gun control.

Good morning, everybody. It’s now been five days since the heartbreaking tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut; three days since we gathered as a nation to pray for the victims. And today, a few more of the 20 small children and six educators who were taken from us will be laid to rest.

We may never know all the reasons why this tragedy happened. We do know that every day since, more Americans have died of gun violence. We know such violence has terrible consequences for our society. And if there is even one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation — all of us — to try.

Over these past five days, a discussion has reemerged as to what we might do not only to deter mass shootings in the future, but to reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every single day. And it’s encouraging that people of all different backgrounds and beliefs and political persuasions have been willing to challenge some old assumptions and change longstanding positions.

That conversation has to continue. But this time, the words need to lead to action.

We know this is a complex issue that stirs deeply held passions and political divides. And as I said on Sunday night, there’s no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. We’re going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun. We’re going to need to look more closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence. And any actions we must take must begin inside the home and inside our hearts.

But the fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing. The fact that we can’t prevent every act of violence doesn’t mean we can’t steadily reduce the violence, and prevent the very worst violence.

That’s why I’ve asked the Vice President to lead an effort that includes members of my Cabinet and outside organizations to come up with a set of concrete proposals no later than January — proposals that I then intend to push without delay. This is not some Washington commission. This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside. This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull together real reforms right now. I asked Joe to lead this effort in part because he wrote the 1994 Crime Bill that helped law enforcement bring down the rate of violent crime in this country. That plan — that bill also included the assault weapons ban that was publicly supported at the time by former Presidents including Ronald Reagan.

The good news is there’s already a growing consensus for us to build from. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. A majority of Americans support laws requiring background checks before all gun purchases, so that criminals can’t take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody who won’t take the responsibility of doing a background check at all.

I urge the new Congress to hold votes on these measures next year in a timely manner. And considering Congress hasn’t confirmed a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in six years — the agency that works most closely with state and local law enforcement to keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals — I’d suggest that they make this a priority early in the year.

Look, like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. This country has a strong tradition of gun ownership that’s been handed down from generation to generation. Obviously across the country there are regional differences. There are differences between how people feel in urban areas and rural areas. And the fact is the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible — they buy their guns legally and they use them safely, whether for hunting or sport shooting, collection or protection.

But you know what, I am also betting that the majority — the vast majority — of responsible, law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war. I’m willing to bet that they don’t think that using a gun and using common sense are incompatible ideas — that an unbalanced man shouldn’t be able to get his hands on a military-style assault rifle so easily; that in this age of technology, we should be able to check someone’s criminal records before he or she can check out at a gun show; that if we work harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one in Newtown — or any of the lesser-known tragedies that visit small towns and big cities all across America every day.

Since Friday morning, a police officer was gunned down in Memphis, leaving four children without their mother. Two officers were killed outside a grocery store in Topeka. A woman was shot and killed inside a Las Vegas casino. Three people were shot inside an Alabama hospital. A four-year-old was caught in a drive-by in Missouri, and taken off life support just yesterday. Each one of these Americans was a victim of the everyday gun violence that takes the lives of more than 10,000 Americans every year — violence that we cannot accept as routine.

So I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. We won’t prevent them all — but that can’t be an excuse not to try. It won’t be easy — but that can’t be an excuse not to try.

And I’m not going to be able to do it by myself. Ultimately if this effort is to succeed it’s going to require the help of the American people — it’s going to require all of you. If we’re going to change things, it’s going to take a wave of Americans — mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, pastors, law enforcement, mental health professionals — and, yes, gun owners — standing up and saying “enough” on behalf of our kids.

It will take commitment and compromise, and most of all, it will take courage. But if those of us who were sent here to serve the public trust can summon even one tiny iota of the courage those teachers, that principal in Newtown summoned on Friday — if cooperation and common sense prevail — then I’m convinced we can make a sensible, intelligent way to make the United States of America a safer, stronger place for our children to learn and to grow.

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It’s official: Florida hits 1 million concealed weapons permits

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida officially hit the one million milestone for concealed weapons permits as predicted last week by Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam, whose office oversees the program.

As of this morning, there were 1,000,645 active concealed weapons permits in Florida, according to Putnam’s office. The million mark comes amid national scrutiny of state and federal gun laws in the wake of Friday’s shooting rampage by gunman Adam Lanza, who killed 20 first graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. Authorities say Lanza also killed his mother as well as himself.

Some gun rights proponents, including state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, want to allow people with concealed weapons permits and extra training to bring the guns into schools. They argue that armed personnel on school campuses would make schools safer.

With about one in 14 eligible Floridians holding the permits, Florida now has the highest number of concealed weapons permits of any state in the nation, according to Putnam. More than 62,000 Palm Beach County residents hold the permits.

Florida concealed weapons permits soon to reach 1 million milestone

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida is on track to hit the one million mark for active concealed weapons permits – more than any other state in the nation – according to Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Putnam, whose office issues and oversees the permits, told reporters Wednesday that there are currently about 993,000 permits in the state. At the rate the concealed weapons permits are being issued, Putnam said he expects Florida to hit the 1 million mark – the highest in the nation – sometime next week.

Nearly one in 14 Floridians over the age of 21 have the permits, according to Putnam’s data. Permits are restricted to those over the age of 21 unless they are in the military and to those who have not been a convicted felon or have had their gun rights restored.

The number of permits has steadily risen since the state first began issuing the permits 25 years ago.

Last year, 151,883 permits were issued, second only to the 167,240 permits issued in 2010. About 80 percent of the current permit-holders are men, and nearly than one-third are between the ages of 51 and 65, according to Putnam’s department. The vast majority of permit holders are white or Hispanic, Putnam said.

Nearly one in 14 Floridians over the age of 21 have the permits, which are restricted to people over the age of 21 unless they are in the military and to those who have not been a convicted felon or have had their gun rights restored. About 90 percent of the permit holders are Florida residents, Putnam said.

Only about .3 percent of the 2 million licenses issued over the life of the program have been revoked, Putnam said. Licenses can be revoked when someone is found guilty of committing a felony or been deemed to be mentally incompetent by a court.

Florida’s concealed weapons permits came under scrutiny in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who has a concealed weapons permit, claimed he shot and killed the unarmed teenager in self-defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Zimmerman was later charged with second-degree murder.

Putnam said he held the press conference to announce the milestone because he’s asked about the concealed weapons permits more than any other topic. And he said the low revocation rate proves the system is working.

“So clearly, Floridians who are obtaining these licenses are obtaining them for the right reasons and overwhelmingly using them in an appropriate way,” Putnam, who said he has a concealed weapons permit, said.

Putnam gave a National Rifle Association-ready response to a question about what the milestone means about Florida and its culture.

“I think that surpassing the one million active license tells us that Floridians have a great respect and appreciation for their Second Amendment rights and that firearm ownership whether for personal protection, for sport or for collections is a popular thing,” he said.

Stand Your Ground task force finalizing recommendations

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 by Dara Kam

PENSACOLA _ After four months of testimony regarding Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, a panel headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll is finalizing recommendations to the legislature about how – if at all – the law should be changed.

But critics of the task force appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in the aftermath of the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer were disappointed by the panel’s suggestions, saying they will do little to clear up what they call haphazard application of the law.

The panel’s first recommendation is an affirmation of the law.

“The Task Force concurs with the core belief that all persons, regardless of citizenship status, have a right to feel safe and secure in our state. To that end, all persons have a fundamental right to defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be and are conducting themselves in a lawful manner.”

Other recommendations include:
- Asking the legislature to examine the “unlawful activity” of the law. The statute says that the Stand Your Ground law can be invoked as long as people are not engaged in “unlawful activity.”
- Training for prosecutors, law enforcement officials and others about how the law works.
- Having the lawmakers consider setting standards for neighborhood watch groups, now left up mostly to local law enforcement.
- Asking lawmakers to examine the definition of “criminal prosecution” to clear up confusion by law enforcement officials about what they are allowed to do under the law.

“The Task Force heard examples of law enforcement expressing concern for the definition of ‘criminal prosecution.’ The concerns were that law enforcement was not assured of the ability to fully investigate by detaining or arresting upon probable cause a person engaged in use of force,” that recommendation reads.

The panel, just back from lunch, is slated to discuss the “10-20-Life” law as it relates to the use of Stand Your Ground, possibly making a recommendation to relax that gun-related statute that includes mandatory sentences for crimes in which a gun in used.

Criminal defense lawyers and the sponsors of the Stand Your Ground law vehemently objected to a proposal to do away with the immunity from prosecution portion of the law, saying that would effectively gut the statute.

Palm Beach County circuit judge Krista Marx brought up the issue of immunity, arguing that only judges can give immunity. Under the law, people who use the Stand Your Ground defense are immune from prosecution unless a judge decides they may have committed a crime.

She said law enforcement can still investigate whether a crime was committed.

“So when you use the word immunity and suggest that a law enforcement officer or even a state attorney can infer immunity on somebody, it’s incorrect,” Marx said.

But state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the law, disagreed. He wanted to make sure the law continued to keep people who use Stand Your Ground from having to hire a lawyer to defend themselves in court.

“I think the legislature does have the authority to say who will be prosecuted and who will be not prosecuted,” Baxley said. “And in that generic sense that they’re immune from prosecution if in fact they were a law-abiding citizen they were doing nothing wrong except what they should do, which is stop a violent act so nobody got beat raped or murdered. You do not detain them. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do…They’re stopping a violent act. And that’s what I want the statute to do at the end of the day.”
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Scott fires back over docs and guns, appeals ruling blocking law

Monday, July 30th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott, as expected, is appealing a judge’s ruling that permanently blocked a law barring doctors from asking patients about guns from going into effect.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke earlier this month issued a permanent injunction banning enforcement of the “Firearm Owner’s Privacy Act,” pushed by the National Rifle Association, ruling the law unconstitutionally violates physicians’ freedom of speech.

“This law was carefully crafted to respect the First Amendment while ensuring a patient’s constitutional right to own or possess a firearm without discrimination. I signed this legislation into law because I believe it is constitutional and I will continue to defend it,” Scott said in a statement announcing the state Department of Health was appealing.

The Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians sued Scott shortly after the he signed the act into law last year, arguing that what they called the “physician gag law” prevented doctors from doing their job.

Proponents of the measure said the law prevented discrimination against gun owners, some of whom had complained that doctors were using questions about firearms to discourage gun ownership.

Federal judge permanently blocks docs n’ guns law

Monday, July 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida doctors will be allowed to ask their patients about gun ownership after a federal judge on Friday ruled a law barring physicians from questioning patients about weapons in the home is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke blocked the law from going into effect last year after three groups of doctors sued Gov. Rick Scott over what they called the “doctor gag law.”

On Friday, Cooke ruled that the law is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment freedom of speech rights.

“This law chills practitioners’ speech in a way that impairs the provision of medical care and may ultimately harm the patient,” Cooke wrote in her 25-page ruling>ruling.

Passed by lawmakers last year, Florida was the only state in the nation to impose the restriction on doctors, according to the National Rifle Association, which pushed the law. Some gun-owners complained that their doctors were using questions about firearms to discourage gun ownership. According to the lawsuit, one doctor refused to treat a patient who refused to answer questions about whether he owned a gun.

Cooke also said the law, which imposes penalties on doctors who “unnecessarily harass a patient about firearm ownership,” was too vague.

The “harassment provision does not provide fair notice as to what range of conduct it prohibits,” Cooke wrote.

Trayvon Martin’s parents plead with Gov. Scott’s task force to change ‘Stand Your Ground’

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Benjamin Crump, Sybrina Fulton, Jahvaris Fulton and Tracy Martin

LONGWOOD _ Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the parents of the unarmed black teenager shot to death by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February, made an impassioned plea to change the state’s Stand Your Ground law that they say encourages vigilantism.

Zimmerman claimed he shot their son Trayvon Martin in self-defense, permissible under the state’s Stand Your Ground law that allows people to use deadly force when they feel threatened.

“I believe my son was standing his ground…He was afraid,” Fulton told reporters outside the mega-church where the public is now addressing the task force for the first time since Scott created it after a national outcry over a delay in the arrest of Zimmerman. Authorities arrested Zimmerman two months after the Feb. 26 shooting in Sanford. “They do need to review these laws. “He was afraid…This is personal. They do need to review these laws.”

The couple also delivered 375,000 online petitions collected by Second Chance on Shoot First, a national campaign co-founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“This is definitely personal to us. Our son has been sacrificed,” Tracy Martin said. “It’s a bad law. These laws are set up basically for the shooter to take an innocent life.”

Tracy Martin also disputed Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense, saying he ignored 911 operators instructions to remain in his vehicle and not to pursue Martin.

“He was defending himself against what?” Martin said.

The law gives the message that “it’s OK to be a vigilante in our society today,” Martin said. “The public is not going to stand around for it and we certainly aren’t going to stand around for it.”

Sparse crowd as ‘Stand Your Ground’ meeting begins

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

LONGWOOD _ There were plenty of satellite trucks and television cameras from national news outlets at a mega-church near the site where neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot and Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in February.

But just a handful of people showed up for Gov. Rick Scott’s “Citizen Safety and Protection Task Force” meeting – the first where the public will be allowed to speak – so far.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, the panel’s chairwoman, spoke with reporters before the meeting began at 9 a.m.

She said the task force’s mission is not to revisit the Trayvon Martin shooting or Zimmerman’s case. Zimmerman, who was charged with second degree murder in the shooting, claimed he shot Martin in self-defense, shining a spotlight on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law that allows people to use deadly force when they feel threatened.

Carroll said the first task force meeting is being held to near Sanford to give residents “closure” in the aftermath of the shooting. National civil rights leaders were outraged that Zimmerman was not arrested for weeks. Special prosecutor Angela Corey, appointed by Scott, filed charges against Zimmerman two months after the Feb. 26 shooting. Accusations of racism because Zimmerman is a white Hispanic and Martin was black heightened racial tensions in the Central Florida community on the outskirts of Orlando.

“Because this task force was borne out of the concerns during the Martin-Zimmerman situation, we felt it would be a good thing to number one come to this area to give some closure,” Carroll, who is black, said. “There may be some people that have not had an opportunity to air their concerns during the time of all the situation going on a few months ago. So it gives an opportunity for the citizens to come and share what their issues, concerns, suggestions may be and have some closure to them having access to their public officials and individuals that may be making decisions based on what we heard throughout our public testimony and the information received on our website as well.”

The meeting begins with a presentation from Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Krista Marx, who is giving an overview of the “Stand Your Ground” law and a seminal Florida Supreme Court ruling related to it. Law enforcement officials and lawyers will also speak this morning before the public is allowed to weigh in this afternoon. Martin’s parents are scheduled to hold a rally during the lunch break and deliver more than 300,000 petitions to the task force asking that the law be changed.

The panel is holding meetings throughout the state and will make recommendations to the state legislature about whether the law should be changed.

Stage set for showdown over ‘Stand Your Ground’ as task force meets near Sanford

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

LONGWOOD _ Floridians will get their first face-to-face chance to sound off on the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law at the first public meeting of Gov. Rick Scott’s “Citizen Safety and Protection Task Force” today.

The task force has received more than 6,500 e-mails, many of them emotional, weighing in on whether the law should be changed. The National Rifle Association, which pushed Florida’s first-in-the-nation “Stand Your Ground” law seven years ago, launched a campaign last week urging gun rights activists to contact the task force and let their feelings be known.

The four hours of public testimony in the afternoon sets the stage for a potential showdown. Opponents of the law – led by the parents of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed, black 17-year-old shot to death by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February – will hold a rally during the panel’s lunch break. Martin’s parents Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton will deliver more than 300,000 petition signatures asking that the law be changed.

Even the locale of the meeting, the first where the panel will take public testimony, is controversial.

It’s being held at a church in Longwood, not far from the Sanford gated community where Trayvon Martin was shot to death on a rainy night in February. Even some panelists privately complain about the meeting’s location, saying it contradicts the purpose of the panel. Scott said he does not want the task force to focus on the Martin/Zimmerman case, but instead to look at the law overall and see if it needs to be changed.

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