Indications are growing that the gun lobby might face unusual difficulties in the Florida Legislature this year.
In Tallahassee on Monday, the Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee announced his opposition to arming Florida school teachers as a defense against school shooters and a Democratic senator filed a bill to repeal one of the National Rifle Association's trophy bills from 2011, the law forbidding doctors to ask patients whether they have guns at home.
The developments occurred in the national discussion of how to fit firearms into American life after the massacre of 20 first-graders and several adults by a deranged gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Arming teachers as a first-line defense has been proposed by the NRA and other advocates for gun rights. But State Sen. John Legg (R-Port Richey) said yesterday he's not a "big fan" of the approach. Legg is the chairman of the Senate Education committee, where bills relating to school safety are likely to be hatched.
As the News Service of Florida reports, the prevailing sentiment in the capital is to give local school districts flexibility rather than dictate their responses to safety issues:
Grady Cannon, assistant principal at Pace High School in Santa Rosa County, said the resource officer at his school now has responsibility for seven other schools in addition to Pace. Cannon also opposed arming teachers.
"That's not a very smart thing to do. Accidents are going to happen if you put those kinds of items in the hands of the public," he said.
Superintendents and lawmakers at the Tuesday hearing, though, seemed more inclined to leave specific decisions like those in the hands of local school districts. Much of the discussion centered on increasing funding or giving districts more flexibility to use the money they do receive to respond to threats.
Another hearing on how the Newtown reaction might affect Florida's education budget is scheduled for today (1/16).
Meanwhile, State Sen. Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens) has filed a largely symbolic bill to repeal "The Firearm Owners Privacy Act," which was passed in 2011 to prevent doctors from asking patients if there are guns in their homes. Symbolic, because it has never been enforced. A federal court struck it down this year, ruling that its basic premise -- that it attacks Second Amendment rights and subjects gun owners to discrimination -- was "a legislative illusion."
Still, the state is appealing the ruling and Braynon says the legislation must go. "It’s an unnecessary statute," Braynon said. "When doctors are asking these questions, they're asking for safety reasons. It's like asking if you have dogs in the house, do you have knives."
The NRA hasn’t commented yet on the proposed repealer. But, as the News Service of Florida recounts in another story, the organization put a lot of resources into passing it two years ago:
Lawmakers passed the bill in 2011 over the objections of Florida pediatricians. The Florida Medical Association, which originally opposed the bill, withdrew its objections after amendments were added allowing physicians to ask about gun ownership under certain circumstances.
Supporters argued that doctors might refuse to treat patients who had guns in their homes or that patients who declined to answer the question might be turned away. They also raised the possibility that patients' privacy rights might be violated if their gun ownership were listed in medical records.
But doctors countered that knowing what is in a patient's home – particularly a child's – gives them an opportunity to advise their patients on how to stay safe.
Legislators in both chambers passed the bill in mostly party line votes of 88-30 in the House and 27-10 in the Senate.