By a slim vote, Pasco commissioners are ready to consider tightening the county's gun regulations that allow people to sell guns at gun shows without conducting a background check on the buyer.
Commissioners voted 3-2 today to host a public forum on proposed gun control measures as a precursor to introducing a new ordinance to close the "gun show loophole."
While licensed dealers are required to conduct the background checks, private individuals can unload a cache of weapons at gun shows – no questions asked.
"Gun shows are not the problem," said Arthur Hayhoe, director of Floridians for Gun Safety. "What goes on at the gun show is the problem."
Hillsborough and Pinellas counties require background checks for all gun show purchases, regardless of the seller. Pasco commissioners considered closing the loophole in 1998 but voted against it.
"When you go to a gun show in Hillsborough or Pinellas, you don't see all these sellers walking around the edges with bags full of guns," Hayhoe said. "You don't see a guy running up and down the aisle with a semiautomatic rifle on his shoulder and a sign. The danger is there's no record of the buyer, the seller or the gun."
The discussion was prompted by an open letter from Pasco Democratic Party Chairman Lynn Lindeman in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
"No background checks means the mentally ill can purchase guns," Lindeman said. "This is not an abstract problem. It's a real and present danger. Do you think the people in Newtown or the people in Aurora, Colo. thought it would happen there?"
Republican State Committeeman Bill Bunting said restricting private sales at gun shows wouldn't prevent crime because there's such a heavy law enforcement presence at the events. "Criminals are not going to go where they know law enforcement is," he said.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri told Bunting she couldn't understand why he would have a problem with more background checks. He responded that "every time someone gets their foot in the door they want to take away Second Amendment rights."
Mulieri disagreed. "You're not taking away anyone's rights to buy guns," she said. "I don't see problem waiting three days. I was on the commission when this came up in 1998. Maybe I'm older and wiser now. I just think it's something that should be done."
Chairman Ted Schrader said he was open to broader gun control measures, such as banning assault weapons, after hearing from multiple gun advocates. "No one can explain to me why anyone besides law enforcement or military personnel needs assault weapons," he said. "I'm open to having a discussion."
But County Attorney Jeff Steinsnyder quickly cut off that discussion – noting that the counties are prohibited under Florida law from enacting any type of weapons ban.
The board voted to seek public input at its next meeting, Feb. 5, before asking Steinsnyder to draft an ordinance. Schrader, Mulieri and Commissioner Kathryn Starkey voted for the forum.
Commissioners Jack Mariano and Henry Wilson voted against it.