How Florida's Lax Gun Laws May Have Contributed to Monday's Workplace Shooting

On Monday, a gunman opened fire at a workplace in Orlando, killing five employees before turning the gun on himself. While the shooting has received scant media attention following the initial breaking news, the incident marks yet another shooting in the U.S. and joins a long roster of gun-related attacks just this year alone, including the Pulse nightclub shooting nearly one year earlier in Orlando. It is emblematic of the high rates of gun violence in this country, making the U.S. an outlier from the rest of the world with more than 33,000 annual gun deaths, according to FiveThirtyEight.

One reason the U.S. suffers so many mass shootings and gun-related deaths lies largely in how states regulate—or don’t regulate—firearms. Gun laws and the regulation of guns are primarily created at the state level, giving legislators ultimate discretion in shaping the selling, distribution and usage of guns in their state.

Florida, in particular, has lax gun laws making it easy for people in the state to purchase firearms, prompting the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence to give the state an F rating for its gun laws. For one, the state constitution affirms a citizen’s right to bear arms and own a gun. Florida does not require background checks before the transfer of a firearm between private parties, nor does the state license firearm owners, require firearms to be registered or require a permit to purchase firearms. Assault weapons in Florida are not regulated and there is no limit to the number of firearms one can purchase at one time. Because of these soft gun laws, statistics show that there are about 16.1 registered guns per 1,000 adults in Florida.

The ease with which people in Florida can obtain a gun likely played a role in Monday’s tragic shooting, as well as last June’s massacre at Pulse nightclub, which was the deadliest mass shooting in modern history. And because of the state’s relaxed gun laws, the gun death rate is about 11.9 deaths per 100,000 people.

Although many Republicans believe that having laxer gun control and allowing people more access to guns will keep people safer, the data show a different picture. Data from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence concluded that states with weaker gun laws see higher gun death rates than those with strong gun regulation, and the 10 states with the lowest gun death rates are seen to have the strongest gun laws.

It is unlikely that this recent shooting will galvanize the public and politicians to revisit the need for stronger gun control legislation. Legislation being considered in the Florida legislature for 2017 actually seeks to help expand gun ownership and weaken gun control regulation even more. SB 140, introduced by Sen. Greg Steube (R), would allow for the open carry of handguns by the 1.7 million people who are concealed weapons permit-holders. The bill would also allow guns in courthouses, airport passenger terminals, legislative meetings, public college and university campuses, elementary and secondary schools across the state—a wide expansion of the places guns can be carried and potentially used. Another bill, SB 908, would eliminate gun-free zones that currently exist in Florida, which includes "police, sheriff or highway patrol stations; jails and prisons; courthouses; polling places; establishments that serve alcohol; and school, college or professional athletic events." 

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