Fifty people, including the gunman, died in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016, and Florida gun control advocates hoped lawmakers would be compelled to propose stricter gun laws. They urged a special legislative session.
But Gov. Rick Scott rejected the idea. At a news conference three weeks after the shooting he said that “the Second Amendment has been around for over 200 years. The Second Amendment didn’t kill anybody. Evil does.”
Scott does back the idea of banning gun sales to suspected terrorists. The so-called “No Fly No Buy” concept has support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. But Florida gun control advocates think it’s not enough.
“We’re horrified by the type of weapon that was used at Pulse,” says Patricia Brigham, who heads the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.
The League of Women Voters created the group in response to the Pulse shooting. Brigham has spent the past three years battling what she calls “bad gun bills” as part of the League’s efforts.
“Campus carry, open carry. Stand your ground expansion,” she says. “We were constantly sort of on the defensive. We thought, it’s time to go after some proactive, smart gun legislation.”
The Coalition proposed two changes: universal background checks and a ban on semiautomatic weapons. More than 90 groups, including gun safety, faith-based and health care groups have signed on.
Democratic statehouse candidate Beth Tuura is one of them. Inside her living room, the political newcomer from Orlando is looking at her packed campaign calendar.
Tuura is openly gay and when she started her campaign, LGBT rights were at the center of her platform. She added gun control as a focus after the Pulse shooting.
“Pulse is two miles from my house,” she said. “Anybody who went to any of the memorials, I mean that was the topic on everybody’s lips, you know. Why did that happen? What can we do to prevent this from happening again?”
Jon Gutmacher has an answer. And it’s not more gun control.
“Primary problem No. 1 is mental health, which we are not addressing. And the second problem are terrorists,” he says.
He is a 35-year NRA certified firearms instructor, prosecutor and a police legal advisor. He’s also an unabashed pro-gun guy who’s written a 350-page book on Florida gun law.
“Here are the pages. Anybody who doesn’t own a gun has no idea what the laws are. Anybody who owns a gun probably doesn’t have a very good idea of what the laws are either because they’re complicated and there are too many of them,” Gutmacher says.
And he believes they don’t address the underlying causes of gun violence.
But the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence argues restricting access to guns could help prevent future mass shootings. Patricia Brigham says the group is working with national organizations to draft legislation.
“We know it’s going to be tough, that it’s not going to be a 5k. It’s going to be a marathon,” she said.