When the annual 60-day legislative session gets under way next month, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will be looking for ways to keep Florida’s kids safe from guns, reported the Tampa Bay Times.
Statewide, the number of children killed by guns has risen nearly 20 percent since 2010, a Tampa Bay Times analysis has found. Child gun injuries went up 36 percent.
Not surprisingly, the solutions up for consideration this year differ radically along party lines. Democrats want to tighten the existing law that hold adults criminally liable when kids access their firearms, and increase the penalties. But the lawmaker with the most power over the matter has a different idea.
“We could do away with gun-free zones,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, naming a key piece of the National Rifle Association’s agenda in Florida.
Florida law currently prohibits concealed weapons in 15 types of locations, including elementary through high schools. Steube and other Republican lawmakers have argued that people are generally less safe in these so-called “gun free-zones” because they cannot protect themselves in an active-shooter situation.
“There’s not a school resource officer in every one of our elementary schools,” he said. “If a terrorist wants to come in and start shooting our kids, there’s nothing to stop them.”
The Times looked at all types of gun incidents that affect children: accidents, suicides and shootings that took place during the commission of a crime, among them. The newspaper found the number of accidents and assaults were roughly even between 2010 and 2015, but that accidents increased far faster than assaults or suicides.
More than a quarter-century ago, Florida took the lead on preventing accidental firearm incidents. In 1989, it became the first state to lock up gun owners for failing to secure their firearms around kids.
Under the law, which remains on the books, a gun owner can face second-degree misdemeanor charges if a child 15 or younger accesses his or her weapon and takes it to a public place or waves it in a threatening way. If the child uses the weapon to kill or injure someone, the gun owner can face third-degree felony charges punishable with a fine up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison.
The 1989 law achieved “significant, impressive results,” said Ari Freilich, a staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. A 2000 study in the journal Pediatrics found it was associated with a 51 percent drop in unintentional child gun deaths.
But some gun-safety advocates contend the measure isn’t working as well as it once did, in part because people have forgotten about it.
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