By JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
Gov. Rick Scott appears nearly bulletproof right now in the eyes of the National Rifle Association.
That assessment of Scott comes as the NRA notes that more pro-gun bills have been signed into law in the past four years than during any other recent single gubernatorial term. The organization sent a message to members applauding Scott for setting the record.
Since taking office in 2011, Scott has signed into law 12 gun-related measures backed by the NRA. That total is nine more than former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist approved while enjoying an equally Republican-dominated Legislature between 2007 and 2010. Crist is now running for the Democratic nomination to face Scott in the November elections.
The total number of Scott’s signings remains two fewer than those inked by former Gov. Jeb Bush, who also affixed his name to a one-year record six pro-gun and pro-hunting bills in 2006. A year earlier, Bush had signed the “stand your ground” law. However, Bush’s overall total of 14 new pro-guns laws came during eight years as the occupant of the Governor’s Mansion.
“Governor Scott supports the Second Amendment, and works every day to ensure Florida families are kept safe,” spokesman John Tupps said in an email. “Florida is at a 43-year crime low, and Governor Scott will review any legislation that the Legislature passes and sends to his desk.”
The bills signed by Scott have ranged from the highly contentious, such as the “docs vs. glocks” law in 2011 that has been on hold since being thrown out by a federal judge in 2012, to less controversial laws that reduced the fees for a new concealed carry weapon and allowed tax collectors’ offices handle concealed-weapon license applications.
“The bills that Gov. Scott has signed will make and have made an enormous difference,” said Marion Hammer, the powerful lobbyist for the NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida. “These laws will have major impact on law abiding gun owners.”
She wasn’t as praiseworthy of the more politically flexible Crist, who left office with an “A” rating by the NRA and campaigned in 2010 for the U.S. Senate claiming to have “never wavered in his support for the Second Amendment.”
Crist earned the “profound appreciation” of the NRA in May 2009 for vetoing the Legislature’s plan to sweep $6 million from the Concealed Weapons and Firearms Licensing Trust Fund to patch a hole in the state budget. Crist also won praise when signing legislation to allow concealed weapons permit-holders to keep their guns in their vehicles while at work, and by appointing NRA-supported judges Charles Canady and Ricky Polston to the state Supreme Court.
But Hammer alluded to Crist being less than supportive as “critically important bills” were discussed outside of committee meetings while he was still governor.
“When you’re trying to pass legislation, sometimes legislators will ask (the governor) what they’ll do, and if they’re non-committal, that’s always like a negative,” Hammer said when asked about Crist.
A spokesman for Crist said Wednesday that the former governor maintains his belief in the Second Amendment, but favors “sensible gun safety steps” to keep communities and children safe.
“For example, he believes we should get military-style assault weapons and high-capacity clips off the streets and institute tougher background checks to keep dangerous weapons out of the wrong hands,” Kevin Cate, a spokesman for Crist, responded in an email.
The increase in gun-friendly bills becoming law comes as more Floridians are registered gun owners.
As of May 31, there were 1.27 million concealed-weapon or firearm licenses issued in Florida, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The state went over the 1 million mark in Dec. 2012, becoming the first state in the nation to surpass that figure.
And the Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducted 869,457 background checks on firearm purchases in 2013. The annual number of checks grew from 406,370 in 2007, when Crist took office, to 606,655 in 2011, Scott’s first year in office. Each check includes an examination of an applicant’s criminal history and mental-health database reviews.
Coconut Creek Democrat Rep. Jim Waldman, a gun owner who has not received glowing scores from the NRA, said the proliferation of pro-gun bills is more about catering to the Republican Party’s “ultra-right” base than sound policy.
“The only way a lot of Republicans get elected is, they need to beef up their bona fides, and one way to do that is to support gun legislation,” Waldman said.
Scott signed five gun-rights bills into law this year, after signing three each in 2011 and 2012. He signed one in 2013.
This year’s offerings would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage or increasing rates based on customers owning guns or ammunition. Also, they would allow people to threaten to use force, including showing guns, in self defense. Another new law would prevent schoolchildren from being disciplined for simulating guns while playing or for wearing clothes that depict firearms.
“There were not a lot of contentious bills, they were not all that controversial, there were just some contentious people,” Hammer said.
Besides the opposition to “docs and glocks,” most of the gun related controversy in recent sessions has been through failed efforts by advocates seeking to repeal the 2005 “stand your ground” law, which says people can use deadly force and do not have a duty to retreat if they think it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm
The so-called “warning shot” law approved this year modified “stand your ground” by extending immunity to those who threaten to use force in self-defense.
In addition to “docs vs. glocks,” a law that restricts how doctors can talk to patients about guns, the 2011 laws signed by Scott included another one that continues to be challenged by cities and counties. That bill established $5,000 fines for county and city officials who enforce local firearms restrictions and empowered the governor to remove local officials from office if they continued to defy the state law.
In June, a judge sided with Palm Beach County against the provision that the governor could remove a county official from office for trying to enforce local gun control rules.
Not all of the gun laws have received universal praise from gun-rights advocates.
An NRA-backed measure Scott signed in 2013, crafted in the wake of 20 children and six adults being gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was narrowly-focused on making it harder for the mentally ill to buy guns.
However, the issue put Scott in the crosshairs of two out-of-state groups.
The Colorado-based National Association for Gun Rights and the Virginia-based Gun Owners of America argued that the law — which blocks firearms purchases by some people who voluntarily admit themselves for mental-health treatment — would discourage people with mental illnesses from seeking treatment.
In a letter accompanying the bill signing, Scott noted that the measure was the product of mental-health and gun-rights advocates; he also highlighted his history of support for gun rights.
“During the 2012 GOP Convention, I was asked to issue a temporary executive order to override laws that allow people to carry concealed weapons, which I denied because it was unclear how disarming law-abiding citizens would better protect them from the damages and threats posed by those who would flout the law,” Scott wrote. “Additionally, I’ve signed legislation protecting the privacy of firearm owners and stopping local governments from overreaching in the regulation of firearms.”