Legislation backed by gun-rights advocates to plug a loophole to guard against gun purchases by people with mental illness won overwhelming approval from the Florida House on Wednesday evening.
The measure (HB 1355) has emerged as one of the most prominent gun-related bills to come up during the 60-day legislative session approaching its final couple of weeks.
The proposal is aimed at defusing potentially dangerous situations in which people with mental illnesses voluntarily admit themselves for treatment to avoid involuntary commitment, then quickly check out. At that point, they are able to obtain weapons, according to the bill's supporters.
"These requirements are restricting those individuals who are becoming an immediate danger to themselves and to others" from being able to purchase firearms, said Democratic Rep. Barbara Watson, the bill's lead sponsor.
The bill passed the House on a 117-1 vote with little discussion. A companion bill (SB 1000) in the Senate has cleared a couple of committees.
Advocates for the dual proposals have included National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, a former NRA president.
"The NRA believes that when you keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, you save lives," Hammer said in a recent interview. "The law prohibits people with mental illnesses from being able to purchase guns, but it's meaningless unless you have a system in place to accomplish that."
The bill's supporters said it's aimed at achieving that goal.
Under the bill, people could be prohibited from purchasing firearms if a doctor said they posed a danger to themselves or others. If the patient didn't agree to be voluntarily admitted for treatment, an involuntary commitment petition would be filed. Patients who voluntarily committed themselves would do so with the understanding that they would be barred from purchasing firearms.
If patients refused to give up their gun-purchasing rights, the involuntary commitment process would proceed.
The bill includes a pathway for people to petition the court to regain their gun-purchasing rights after they are treated. A doctor would have to agree that the person should regain the right.
In action that was more symbolic on Wednesday, the House approved a proposal urging Congress and President Barack Obama to protect the constitutional rights of people to keep and bear arms. The measure expresses the Legislature's opposition to any federal efforts to infringe on Floridians' Second Amendment rights.
It came the same day U.S. senators scuttled the most far-reaching gun control legislation in two decades. They rejected tighter background checks for buyers and a ban on assault weapons, bringing rebuke from Obama.
Another high-profile Florida bill whose fate is uncertain would give public and private school principals the option to designate one or several school employees to carry concealed weapons on campus. Teachers or other school employees designated to carry weapons in schoolhouses would be required to complete the same training that's required of security guards in addition to the statewide firearms training.
The measure was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. A similar bill introduced the Senate hasn't made any headway.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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