House Panel Defeats Gun Bill as NRA Vows to Try Again

April 19, 2007, The Palm Beach Post

TALLAHASSEE — Two days after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, a Florida House council took the unusual step – at least in recent years – of killing a pro-gun bill.

The measure, which would let people keep guns in their cars at work, was forcing Republican lawmakers to choose sides between two interests they often support: the gun lobby and the business community. On Wednesday, as advocates nationwide ramped up demands for more gun control, members of the House Environment and Natural Resources Council were forced to vote on a measure variously known as the “Take Your Gun to Work” bill and the Individual Personal Privacy Protection Act.

Council members voted 10-4 against the bill (HB 1417), which would have allowed gun owners to keep their weapons locked out of sight in their vehicles in their employers’ parking lots or on other properties, such as shopping malls and convenience stores.

State law allows employers and businesses to establish policies banning guns from their property.

A similar Senate bill had been approved in two recent committees by votes of 7-1 and 8-3 and was ready for the Senate floor. But now the House can’t take it up, which means it won’t pass this session.

Mark Wilson, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, one of the largest business lobbies opposing the bill, said after the vote that his organization made a decision not to bring the massacre into the discussion.

”That just wasn’t going to be part of the debate,” Wilson said.

Only one person spoke Wednesday about the Virginia Tech massacre that left 33 dead- and that was in an effort to delay the vote – but it obviously resonated.

“All anyone has to do today is turn on CNN,” said Rep. Baxter Troutman, R-Winter Haven, vice chairman of the council. “I just think this subject today … is highly inappropriate.”

But the council chairman, Rep. Stan Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, required the vote.

”The people in your district expect you to do your job,” he said. ”And part of your job is to vote on difficult issues and sometimes that’s hard to avoid.”

Mayfield and Troutman voted against the bill.

Troutman, who said he is a hunter, represents a district that includes the Lakeland home of Publix Supermarkets, Florida’s largest employer, whose officers lobbied against the bill. He called the decision one of his most difficult.

“I felt like I had a foot on two sinking logs, or rising logs, however you want to look at it,” he said. “We’re sent up here to make hard decisions. Clearly, today was one of those days.”

National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer said the bill was necessary to give employees the ability to protect themselves during their commutes. Asked whether the Virginia Tech tragedy influenced the vote, Hammer said she didn’t know.

”It should not. Nothing in this bill has anything at all to do with the sort of thing that happened in Virginia,” she said.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, the bill’s sponsor who failed to shepherd a similar bill to passage last year, said the Virginia shootings may have “helped people sharpen their views about whether they were, like me, concerned about people’s defenselessness or they were just concerned about violence in general in the country.”

But Baxley, R-Ocala, said the vote more likely resulted from “the money in the room,” a reference to the lobbyists for businesses opposed to the bill.

Gov. Charlie Crist said the Virginia shootings should “not be used for directing policy” in Florida, but he said it would be difficult to separate the two.

”How can you not be impacted at least in some way, as horrific a tragedy that was in our country?” Crist said.

The NRA historically has been effective in the Florida Legislature. It successfully pushed a law two years ago, for example, that removed a person’s duty to retreat when attacked in a public place.

But Wednesday was not the first time lawmakers killed an NRA-backed bill in the aftermath of a tragedy involving guns. Days after the Columbine high school shootings in 1999, former House Speaker John Thrasher retreated from pushing a bill that would have banned counties and cities from suing gun manufacturers.

An expanded version of that bill passed later.

After the vote, Wilson, of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, tried to shake Hammer’s hand.

“Lock and load,” Hammer said. “We’ll be back.”