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Panelists Disagree About How to Cope with Gun Violence

January 10 2013 | WMFE - The tragedy in Newtown Connecticut that left more than 20 students and teachers dead has sparked conversations around the country about public access to firearms. A discussion in Orlando Wednesday was hosted by the Orlando Sentinel and Fox 35 News as part of the "Florida Forward" series. State and local leaders debated the best way to protect the second amendment rights of their citizens, while making sure everyone is as safe as possible.

What’s to blame for the Connecticut tragedy and how can officials prevent something like that from happening in Florida?

That depends on who you ask. Some are pointing to the need for more school funding to pay for enhanced school security.

Others say more mental health services could help to protect against such tragedies while others argue for either more or fewer guns on the streets.

State Representative Dennis Baxley is a Republican from Ocala.

“Let’s look at all the theaters.” Baxley said.  “There were 20 theaters available at this shooting out in Colorado. And what happened? They went to the one theatre that was a ‘gun free zone’ and they knew that. It was advertised as that. We’re more protected that way but we aren’t.”

Representative Baxley sponsored Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. The law doesn’t require a person under attack to retreat before using deadly force. The law was the focus of national media attention recently in connection with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford. The unarmed 17-year old was killed by self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman last February.  Baxley says he doesn’t like the idea of creating what he calls “no gun zones.”

“Making gun-free zones, while well intentioned, desiring to keep everyone safe, we have unintentionally, inadvertently made them a target.” Baxley says.

Baxley says places like college campuses, schools and government buildings where guns are not allowed are typically the target for mass shootings such as the one in Connecticut.

Baxley says putting more restrictions on getting guns won’t stop criminals.

But Senator Darren Soto, a Democrat from Orlando disagrees.

“I support having everyone take a background check before they buy a firearm.” Soto says. “I’ve heard two arguments against that here. One is that we don’t have the mechanism. Well, we can create a mechanism. And two is that there wouldn’t be perfect enforcement.”

Soto says the possibility that perfect enforcement might not be possible is not a good enough reason to shy away from regulations such as mandatory background checks.

The panel also discussed issues such as improving safety in schools, earmarking more funding for mental health services and training teachers to spot students who might need special mental health care. The question of how to avoid tragedies like the one in Connecticut is expected to be major topic in the coming state legislative session.



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