A powerful Florida state senator with a top grade from the National Rifle Association has caused a stir this week by publicly opposing much of the group’s 2017 state legislative agenda.
The lawmaker, Anitere Flores, a Miami-based Republican, is the upper chamber’s president pro tempore and a member of the nine-person Judiciary Committee. On Tuesday evening, she announced that she would vote against a slew of bills proposed by a Republican colleague that would have allowed guns on college campuses, and in airports, elementary schools, and other places where they are currently banned.
“Throughout my personal, professional, and legislative career I have expressed concerns with the reduction of traditional gun-free zones,” she told Sunshine State News. “This is not something new nor should it be a surprise to those who follow the legislative process.”
Her opposition means that the bills will almost certainly fail to advance through the Judiciary Committee, where Republicans hold five seats to Democrats’ four.
But the NRA-backed bill with the most documented public safety implications is still alive in the Florida legislature — in part because Flores supported it.
Lawmakers are considering a bill that would expand Florida’s highly controversial “stand your ground” law. The measure would require prosecutors to make the case for when a self-defense claim is not valid at a pre-trial hearing. Currently, the burden for making the case for why a claim should be allowed falls to the defense.
It is already difficult to prosecute cases where “stand your ground” is invoked; opponents of the new law say its language would make such prosecutions all but impossible, and possibly encourage more vigilante justice.
Six weeks ago, on January 24, Flores voted in favor of the bill with her Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, helping to move it to the Senate floor, where it will receive a full vote next week.
Flores did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The existing version of the law was adopted in 2005. It says that people have a right to defend themselves with deadly force so long as they believe they are under grave threat, and are in a place they have a right to be. The law attracted national attention in 2012, after the death of Trayvon Martin. That year, a Tampa Bay Times investigation found that since the statute was first enacted almost 70 percent of those using a “stand your ground” defense had gone free, and that shooters were much less likely to be convicted if the victim was black. In November of 2016, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that over the following nine years after Florida’s “stand your ground” law had been implemented, the state’s gun homicide rate rose by 31.6 percent.
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The bill amending the law is sponsored by Senator Rob Bradley, a Republican.
“What I hope is the outcome of this is something that I hope we all agree on, that people who should not be arrested are not arrested and people who should not go to trial do not go to trial,” Bradley told the Orlando Sentinel in January. “If I believed that an individual who was otherwise guilty would go free, because this bill passed, then I wouldn’t have filed the bill.”
The Trace reported in January that Flores is one of two Republicans on the Judiciary Committee who represents a portion of the Miami area, where the NRA has little clout. The city is an outlier in a state where Republicans control both legislative chambers and the governorship. That helps explain Flores’s opposition to the gun bills under consideration on Tuesday.
The various pieces of legislation, which have received vigorous support from the NRA, would have not only dramatically expanded the number of places gun owners can carry concealed weapons, but would also allow the open carrying of firearms in public.
Last year, a similar version of Bradley’s bill cleared the Senate, but died in the House, after Charles McBurney, the Republican chairman of that chamber’s Judiciary Committee, refused to bring it up for a vote.
McBurney, a lawyer, was finishing out his final term as a lawmaker. He was hoping to receive a judicial appointment to a circuit court in the Jacksonville area, and was a favorite candidate for the job. But then the NRA’s Florida lobbyist, Marion Hammer, mounted a campaign against him, inciting thousands of members to email Governor Rick Scott, demanding that he cast McBurney aside.
The campaign was successful, and later, McBurney, who once had an A+ rating from the NRA, wrote an op-ed arguing that the bill had “nothing to do with the Second Amendment.”
“To me,” he said, “it was a pro-criminal bill.”