The shooting in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018, where a maniac killed 17 students was a major tragedy. As with any other school shooting there are numerous unanswered questions especially concerning the police response, or lack of it. The politicians are once again on the spot as the public outcry for tougher gun laws sounds off. But would existing gun laws in Florida have been enough to prevent this from happening?
A Glossary of Terms Regarding Gun Laws:
Open Carry: Permission to carry firearms openly where they can be observed.
Concealed Carry: Permission to carry a firearm (handgun) concealed while in personal possession.
Assault weapon: One that can fire a series of rounds with repeated pulls of the trigger and no manual reloading.
Automatic weapon: One that can fire a series of rounds with one pull of the trigger and no manual reloading.
NFA weapon: Weapons defined by the National Firearms Act to include certain explosive devices.
Peaceable Journey: Permission to travel with firearms through a state under certain restrictions. If the state does not enact peaceable journey rules, then federal rules generally apply.
Long guns: Rifles, shotguns and other similar firearms over a specified barrel length.
Castle Doctrine Law: Similar to “Stand your ground” laws where the usage of firearms or deadly force is permitted in protecting one’s home from unauthorized entry.
Magazine Capacity: Laws or regulations restricting the size of magazines and the number of ammunition rounds they can hold at capacity.
A Look at Federal Gun Laws: Federal law is centered around the regulation of automatic weapons used primarily by the military or law enforcement agencies and leaves most other regulations up to state law. The federal government does not explicitly prohibit the private possession of machine guns or automatic weapons. However, there are a host of regulations regarding sale or possession of automatic weapons as provided by the 1934 National Firearms Act, the 1968 Gun Control Act, and the 1986 Firearm’s Owners Protection Act. The following summarizes the main portion of these regulations:
1.) Requires all machine guns, except antique firearms, not in the U.S. government’s possession to be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF);
2.) Bars private individuals from transferring or acquiring machine guns except those lawfully possessed and registered before May 19, 1986;
3.) Requires anyone transferring or manufacturing machine guns to get prior ATF approval and register the firearms;
4.) With very limited exceptions, imposes a $200 excise tax whenever a machine gun is transferred (please note that the $200 excise tax dates back to 1934);
5.) Bars interstate transport of machine guns without ATF approval;
6.) Imposes harsh penalties for machine gun violations, including imprisonment of up to 10 years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both for possessing an unregistered machine gun.
A Comparison of State Gun Laws: State gun laws vary from the very liberal (Idaho or Nevada) to the very restrictive (New York). In Idaho there are no rules requiring registration, permit to purchase, or owner licensing of any firearm. Open carry is permitted, and concealed carry requires a permit only in urban areas. Assault weapons and high capacity magazines are not restricted and Federal rules apply to NFA weapons and Peaceable Journey. Idaho does not require background checks for firearms sales, and preempts local laws which would apply restrictions not required by state law.
In New York virtually every restriction found anywhere under the law applies to handguns, and most apply to long guns. Open carry is prohibited to pistol owners who must have a concealed carry license, but is permitted for long guns while hunting in areas specified for hunting or on the holder’s own property. Permits to purchase, registration, and owner licensing are not required for long guns, and as in nearly all states long guns may not be concealed. The New York Castle Doctrine law applies to the usage of non-lethal force to protect the home from intruders. State law does not preempt any locality from enacting even tougher regulations.
Florida’s gun laws are similar to Idaho’s except that Florida does not permit open carry for private citizens unless it is in connection with hunting, sporting purposes such as target practice, or to and from a firearms distributor. There is no duty in Florida for someone in possession of a firearm to inform law enforcement.
Summary: Since Florida law prohibits open carry of firearms except in connection with hunting or sporting purposes the Parkland High School shooter was violating the law when he walked into the school with an assault rifle. Federal and state gun laws are various and dotted with loopholes. Since 1934 the Federal government has applied restrictions for the possession and transfer of automatic weapons but has not prohibited possession across the board for any firearm except those of high caliber (ie., heavy military weapons).
Conclusion: The killer walked into the one of several buildings that made up the school armed with an AR-15 assault rifle unchecked as there were no security measures in place other than cameras. An armed guard was on the premises outside, but took a position between the shooting building and one next to it as he was confused as to where the gunfire was coming from. The entire shooting episode lasted six minutes as the shooter dropped the weapon and moved outside the building with the mass exit of students. There is some confusion as to the timing and responsibility of the police response which is under review by the state.
If the state of Florida had in place a ban on assault weapons, (only seven states plus the District of Columbia have such a ban) this would have only required the gunman to take a drive to the state of Georgia where assault weapons are not banned. A federal ban on assault weapons for all states might have held down the casualties, but background checks and age minimums (the killer was only 19) need to be better enforced to prevent deranged people from arming themselves in such a manner. This might be better achieved by restricting all gun sales including resales to be made through retail outlets which are easier to regulate than gun shows, swap meets, and media based transactions.