Some Pinellas officials, including a Republican, want to change state gun laws

02/27/13 Janelle Irwin
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Some elected officials in Pinellas County want state legislators to support tougher background checks for purchasing guns. But an attempt to disguise the effort through a name change met little support among state lawmakers during the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation meeting Tuesday in Clearwater. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, a Republican, asked legislators to consider renaming criminal background checks during the gun buying process to better reflect what the term really means.

“What is being done is to determine whether somebody, because of a felony conviction or because of an adjudication of mental health issues that they are then prohibited from buying a firearm, but it’s not a vetting. It’s not a background check in the sense that somebody is trying to determine whether somebody is suitable for the gun or not. So, we’re calling it by this broad term of background check that connotes something that people have misinterpreted and have a misperception of what’s actually being done as opposed to what’s not being done.”

Gualtieri said that some of the few reasons to restrict a person from buying a gun are if they have a felony record, certain verifiable mental health issues or recent domestic battery charges. Those instances wouldn’t cover a husband who wasn’t charged in a domestic dispute, but threatened to kill his wife. Even though Gualtieri requested a change, he repeatedly insisted that didn’t mean he supports stricter gun control laws. Despite that, lawmakers like St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes weren’t buying it.

“The effect is going to be the same. So, whether you call it a background check or a criminal history check or a mental illness check, the effect is still going to be the same and I think it may lead to further confusion about what is checked and what is not checked because what is criminal history check if not a background check? What is a mental illness check if not a background check? So, I think that’s where we’d quickly find ourselves in the exact same situation we’re in today which is, what does this actually cover?

“So, you wouldn’t support legislation to…”

“I’m saying by simply renaming it, you might get back to the exact same place where you are which is, what is a criminal history check, what is a mental illness check, what is a background check?”

Brandes was quick to defend the Second Amendment when Democratic Representative Dwight Dudley suggested more vetting be done by law enforcement of a person’s ability to safely own a firearm.

“There was some conversation – Representative Dudley was talking about whether we should expand dramatically the power we give law enforcement officers to restrict gun ownership and that’s really where I had some concerns is where you could have a very young police officer check a box on some forms and prohibit a law abiding citizen from owning a firearm.”

The issue was brought up by Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long who is a former state Representative. She says gun control has become a national issue since the Sandy Hook shooting in December and lawmakers need to start talking about it.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to couch this serious discussion with all kinds of subterfuge about let’s just change the name and not call it a background check because it really isn’t.”

Long said she realizes there isn’t much chance of a gun control measure making it very far in the Republican-controlled state legislature, but claimed her experience has taught her to bring it up anyway.

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