This is the first of a two part series on how Florida’s gun laws became so wacky.
We are told Florida is a conservative state and because of that in many cases Democrats must support the right to bear arms, and in the case of the stand your ground law the right to use arms indiscriminately. Despite being the most urban southern state, Florida’s gun laws are worse than most of the states in the region. The Florida Legislature, under Democratic leadership and influenced by north Florida conservatives and the NRA, passed lax gun laws that helped make the state a crime ridden embarrassment throughout the 80’s and early 90’s. The 1987 passage of the “right to carry” law ushered in an era of increased crime in Florida’s urban centers and continued national shame.
Bill Nelson’s failed 1990 Gubernatorial campaign was the first in modern Florida history to discuss gun control. It was surprising given Nelson’s own mixed record on the subject as a member of Congress, and he was smashed by Lawton Chiles in any event. In the Chiles’ years, the Governor was perennially to the left of a legislature becoming increasingly GOP dominated. The last few years of Chiles’ life were spent playing defense against the dogmatic conservatism of the legislature by using the veto pen and at times escaping the Capitol altogether to go turkey hunting in southern Georgia.
In the mid 1990’s, as conservatism was surging around the country, Florida was being overrun by those who were more interested in pushing ideology than good public policy. The emergence of Floridian Marion P. Hammer as a national figure furthered the ideological zeal of Florida’s Republicans. Hammer became NRA President in 1995, coinciding with the growing influence of the state GOP. Many legislators who represented urban areas were more loyal to partisan dogma than to their constituents.
Under Hammer, the NRA consistently spun that Florida citizens were against all forms of reasonable gun control. But elections where gun control was a central issue refuted this claim. In 1994 Jeb Bush embraced the NRA mantra accusing Lawton Chiles of being soft on crime. Bush lost. In 1996, Bill Clinton touted his strong record on gun control and he crushed GOP nominee Bob Dole who was closely allied with the NRA. In 2000, Bill Nelson defeated Bill McCollum, one of the NRA’s most celebrated champions in Congress for the US Senate. Also that year Al Gore ran the most pro-gun control campaign in the history of the United States Presidential Elections: Gore was denied Florida’s electoral votes by court intervention and other political games but he almost without question was the choice of the majority of Floridians who turned out on November 7, 2000. While Gore’s strong stand in favor of gun control likely cost him New Hampshire, West Virginia and his home state of Tennessee (all of which had voted Democratic in 1992 & 1996) it probably won him Florida.
Chiles, Clinton, Nelson and Gore all won the majority of urbanized I-4 corridor counties, yet legislators representing those counties often times sat at the forefront of any NRA led effort to weaken Florida’s gun laws. Republican legislators, aided by weak-willed Democratic allies, literally proved they could not read policy papers, studies about crime rates, poll numbers or election results. The only sources of information that mattered to them were the GOP platform and NRA legislative bulletins.
In 1999, both Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas took on the gun lobby locally and won. Both sailed to re-election after their efforts to fight the NRA became campaign issues. The legislature, eager to stop urban south Florida counties from actually protecting their citizens, pushed forward a number of legislative proposals backed by new Governor Jeb Bush. Mayor Penelas’ lawsuit against the gun manufacturers and the effort of Jenne to pass a locally strong county ordinance were stopped by the legislature. In 2001, when Jeb Bush signed a bill denying local governments from protecting their citizens by initiating legal action against the firearms industry, (pictured above) the NRA had effectively taken complete control of state government.
Part II covering post 2001 Florida will run on Tuesday
30 thoughts on “The Myth of Gun Control and Florida Voters: Part I”
agree with every word especially about the statewides that have won on the issue.
I think gun ownership has increased in the last few years in the exurbs and rural areas which make up a lot of the state. I get your point but some Ds from those areas have to vote a certain way unfortunately.
the issue has lost its appeal. In the 1990s it was a very big deal was gun control. my recollection is that chiles here in Fl and clinton in DC really pushed gun control agressively, and the dems lost lots and lots of southern rural oriented members both at state and national levels. in swing areas it is dangerous legislation to force. can’t blame the ds for being scared.
First, I think Trayvon Martin has changed that. Second, the rural area isn’t a “swing” area. It is pretty solid Republican nowadays. Also, in the true “swing” area of the state, the suburbs of Central Florida, I think many Republicans actually side with us. Many of them don’t own firearms and are for gun control.
rural areas though can provide the margin in close statewide elections. see sink, castor and gore.
Again, not really. If Sink were to have won 100% of both Democratic and Independent registered voters in rural north Florida with 100% turnout, she still would have lost.
Opinion is turning hard against the NRA now.
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The so-called swing areas in Florida have through the years always supported reasonable gun control measures. No one has proposed an outright ban on gun sales but instead various mechanisms to control firearms sales and loopholes for sales at gun shows, etc.
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I have to take issue with “NRA, passed lax gun laws that helped make the state a crime ridden embarrassment throughout the 80′s and early 90′s. The 1987 passage of the “right to carry” law ushered in an era of increased crime in Florida’s urban centers and continued national shame.” There is no evidence right to carry laws anywhere lead to increased crime, since those with permits were not commiting the crimes. Florida has lax gun laws that made it an embarrassment? When did Florida repeal any gun law? Stand Your Ground is not a gun law, it is a use of force law. It was not new nor unique to Florida. Many Democrats don’t support the right to bear arms. I get that. Many Democrats and independents do. Deal with it. Either way, it does the party harm to be knee jerk or be dishonest on any issue.
I would not count on that. Trial by media has the habit of being proven to be the lynching of the innocent. I’m not saying Zimmerman is innocent, but he is a victim of trial by media.
Please define reasonable. What mechanisms do you propose? Why do you think current federal laws are not enough? Are you even familiar with current federal or Florida gun laws?
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I worked for Governor Chiles and Lt. Governor MacKay and I can tell you that this article and this series are way off base. Governor Chiles believed that stopping crime meant intervening with kids, beginning before they were born to ensure a healthy birth and solid start in life. He advocated tirelessly and fearlessly for more state involvement on the front end so that we would stop creating criminals. On the other side of the coin, he pushed for Safe Streets, a plan that would have greatly expanded Florida’s prison capacity so that violent criminals would spend more time behind bars. The one time when gun control became an issue for Chiles was when a reporter pointed out that one of the guns Governor Chiles owned for turkey hunting was made illegal by the ridiculous 1994 assault weapons ban.
Actually, gun control was quite a big part of the 1990 campaign. Bill Nelson even did a commercial on the topic.
Okay, Dave. Now, how many gun control initiatives were launched by the Chiles Administration over the next eight years.
Exactly, because Nelson lost.
Okay. And you think this issue is a winner? I don’t. I think it will further divide our state and finish the job that gerrymandering started 20 years ago. This crap has made it impossible for any Democrat to even be taken halfway seriously in much of the state. I’ve stood up publicly for gay marriage, abortion rights and explained to my conservative friends and family members why prayer in schools is a bad idea. So, as I just wrote to Rod Smith, I will not continue to be a member or or support a party that would strip me of my liberty just because it’s politically expedient. I’m under no delusion that I’m a big loss to the party, but if you wonder why Democrats are a minority in both houses of the Legislature and we don’t have the Governor’s mansion anymore, I’d suggest this issue is one of the reasons.
Those who vote primarily on this issue, they are voting Republican anyway. Even if we were to become “pro-gun”, these people would still vote Republican.
It would be sad if someone left the party because of one issue. I disagree strongly with my party on immigration. In fact, I am very conservative on the issue. And, in the grand scheme of things, I think that immigration would rank higher as an important issue than guns if you were to take a poll. Still, the reason that I am a Democrat is because I agree with them on almost all other issues.
Maybe you should be a Libertarian, because it does seem like that is your political stance from what you have mentioned.
I’m pretty clear on which parties stand for what, having actually worked on policy issues for upwards of 20 years in the public and private sectors. And I’m very sure I’ve earned my Democrat bona fides on issues like health care reform, tax reform, funding for our schools and a host of others. My point is that there are those of us who don’t want to vote primarily on gun issues, but we’re left with no choice when that becomes a guiding principle of the party. Again, if these strategies are so brilliant, how did someone like Rick Scott beat an accomplished public servant like Alex Sink?
Well, I don’t primarily vote on the immigration issue, though the party is a 180 from where I stand. But I still stick with the party.
As far as Sink losing, I think two main factors. First, she didn’t rally the liberals. Second, I think the Senate race kept a lot of Democrats home.
Also, you said in your earlier post “I just wrote to Rod Smith, I will not continue to be a member or or support a party that would strip me of my liberty just because it’s politically expedient.”
So, if you are connecting this to the gun issue, though you say you are liberal on everything else, then you are making the gun issue your top priority. Otherwise why else would you leave the party on one issue that you say isn’t your top issue. Doesn’t make sense.
What I said was that I don’t want to vote primarily on this issue — and I shouldn’t have to. But when the party’s leadership puts a gun ban at the top of their political agenda, it forces my hand. To me and to many others, this is an existential, fundamental freedom that the party seems determined to cast aside.
Truthfully, I’m at the point now where I believe the parties themselves are the problem. Win-at-all-cost, divide-and-conquer identity politics have torn this nation apart and left us unable to do anything more than position ourselves for the next election. The great thing about working for Chiles and MacKay was that we were actually about making life better for ordinary people in this state. Sometimes we worked with the Republicans (workers’ comp reform, juvenile justice) and sometimes we worked against them (health care, healthy start, education funding). But both of those men cared more about helping Floridians than scoring cheap political victories.
You are acting like a majority of Democrats don’t support gun control. They actually do support gun control. Also, it is very low on the list of important issues. The only people that consider it a top issue are those that think “the government is going to take away our guns.”
How much you are talking about it really does make it seem like your number one issue. And, again, if it isn’t you shouldn’t care.
Guess what… and this is something that I realized in politics long ago….you can’t get everything that you want, especially if you tag on with a political party. I am a Democrat but I disagree with them on immigration. I know I will always, but I don’t expect the Democratic Party to change their platform just for me.
A majority of Democrats are for gun control, and I highly doubt they will change the platform just for you. Sorry, but that is just reality.
Also, I can say that everyone carrying around guns legally is taking away my freedoms of feeling safe when I walk to streets.
First, yes, this is a vote or no-vote issue to me. Have I not made that clear? It’s relevant because, despite your suggestion, it is at the top of the Democrats’ agenda now, with our own Congresswoman Castor as a driving force behind it. And party leaders all over the news pushing it.
I certainly don’t expect the party to change. I do expect the party to listen to me and many others on this issue. Instead, t’s been like arguing with a “birther.” No facts, evidence or common sense can be heard overthe emotions.
And while I appreciate you sharing your political wisdom with me, I understand how the party platforms are created. I certainly don’t expect the party to change, which is exactly why I’m leaving it.
PS — Where exactly does the Constitution discuss your “freedoms of feeling safe when I walk (the) streets?” Your “feelings” are irrelevant. Our rights are sacrosanct.
I would rather lose one vote in Calhoun County by being pro-gun control than losing hundreds or thousands of votes in Miami-Dade County being anti-gun control.
I’m in Escambia. And that mindset is why Obama can carry the state and yet Scott still has veto-proof majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
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