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Artwork by Melissa McHenry

We asked Central Florida lawmakers where they stand on rapid-fire weapons 

Can we finally talk about gun reform?

People in Orlando react differently to news of mass shootings.

We haven't forgotten what it was like to wake up on June 12, 2016. It is understandable if our first, gut reaction to the news of another new shooting is to hope it wasn't here in Central Florida.

Three mass shootings in eight days in the United States means it's not just us. The July 28 shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Fest in California which claimed four lives was quickly eclipsed by the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, which claimed 32 more lives.

Seventy-eight percent of Americans now think another mass shooting will happen in the U.S. in the next three months, including 49 percent who say one is "highly likely," according to an Aug. 7-8 survey. The sound of motorcycles backfiring in Times Square on Aug. 6 startled crowds into thinking another shooting was taking place, causing a stampede. On the same day, the Virginia offices of USA Today were evacuated after false reports of a gunman on campus.

The massacre at Pulse was then the largest mass shooting in American history, with 49 lives lost and countless more grieving and struggling to heal each day. Horribly, the shooting in Las Vegas, not 16 even months later, eclipsed that dark record by ending 58 lives.

One bright spot this time around was that the chorus of "Too soon" that usually drowns out any real dialogue on the matter was, itself, drowned out by citizens' simply chanting "Do something." The old implication that those who want to talk about policy directly after a tragic event, rather than wallow in useless thoughts and prayers, are somehow gauche, has crumbled.

When can we talk about ending gun violence? How about now?

Of the 27 deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. during the past 70 years, 25 involved the use of a semi-automatic rifle or semi-automatic pistol. Weapons that rapidly fire multiple bullets, especially ones with reloadable magazines, have few uses outside of war zones or in the hands of law enforcement. (And if you have 30 to 50 feral hogs running into your yard within three to five minutes while your small kids play, you have bigger problems: namely, a fatal weakness for overstatement.)

Hobbyists enjoy shooting large, rapid-firing weapons, which makes sense. Destroying targets with ammunition can be an actual blast, and an experience worth trying – at a gun range. Allowing someone to leave the range with such a weapon, however, is an act of absolute madness.

More Americans than ever are questioning whether the carnage is caused by a constitutional necessity to allow weapons of war into civilian life, or by a hobby that has been allowed to run amok, fueled by gun manufacturers and fear-mongering.

It is time to examine guns in America. Not for our sake alone, but for the 253 U.S. cities that have experienced a mass shooting this year, so far. (As of Aug. 10, anyway.)

This week we introduce a new recurring feature on gun policy, as determined by our elected lawmakers in Tallahassee and in Washington, D.C. "How about now?" will ask: Where do they stand on weapons of war in civil society? How have they voted on gun bills? And what legislation have they sponsored to respond to mass killings in the U.S. and here in our own backyard?

We will keep this feature updated as the months, and years – and mass shootings – continue.

WE ASKED QUESTIONS.

We reached out to every state and federal lawmaker in four counties with three simple questions related to stopping mass shootings in the state, and the nation.

Q1: What gun-policy changes do you support?

Q2: Do you support banning weapons that rapidly fire multiple rounds of ammunition?

Q3: Have the three most recent mass shootings caused you to consider new gun policies in Florida? If so, what policies?

HOW DID THEY RESPOND?

Orange County

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-District 7)

Q1: More than 160 days ago, the House passed bipartisan legislation to strengthen the background check system for gun purchases, and I was proud to support that effort. I've also been a strong proponent of measures that would prevent dangerous individuals from acquiring dangerous weapons if they're deemed too risky to fly on an aircraft or if family and law enforcement requests a temporary court order. And I'm in favor of reinstituting an assault weapons ban, and funding much-needed research into gun violence. I believe the Senate must act now on the lifesaving measures passed by the House and help us end gun violence.

Q2: Yes, I am a strong supporter of legislation that would ban large-capacity magazines that can hold up to 100 rounds of ammunition. Battlefield weapons have no place in our community.

Q3: Like many others, I am tired of living in a country in which legislative responses to mass shootings are based on the latest headlines. After Pulse, we saw a renewed effort to pursue a "no fly, no buy" policy. And after Parkland, banning bump stocks became the focus. Not to mention that there are communities in this country that suffer through the consequences of gun violence on an everyday basis, and without the media coverage received by high-profile mass shootings. I believe we must look at gun violence through a fact-based approach, which is why I led the effort that ended the ban on gun violence research during my first term in Congress, and recently helped secure $50 million in legislation passed by the House to begin studying the best way to end this growing epidemic. No single measure will definitively end gun violence, but we must be clear-eyed about the most effective ways to stop its devastating impacts on families all across the country.

U.S. Rep. Bill Posey (R-District 8)

Posey did not answer questions, but emailed a prepared statement:

• As Congress, states, law enforcement, school officials and mental health professionals work to respond to the senseless taking of innocent lives in El Paso and Dayton, we should consider a broad approach if we want to truly prevent such events in the future. The National Institute of Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice, for the past two years, has been studying all mass murders since 1966. They have found four commonalities: (1) most were exposed to early childhood violence and trauma; (2) they reached a crisis point in the weeks or months prior to the shooting; (3) they studied the actions of other shooters; and (4) they found a means to carry out their plans. As you can see there are no simple solutions, but a host of interventions that must be taken.

Addressing the issue of guns is only one aspect and Florida has already taken significant actions in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting when they passed a "red flags" law. Just over 1,700 red flag orders have been filed in Florida since the law was passed. Florida also raised the minimum age to purchase a rifle to 21. We also need better training for law enforcement so that they are equipped to better evaluate who may be a risk to themselves and others so that we can provide further interventions. I believe we also need to look at the violent first-person shooter games that many of these mass shooters are addicted to as well as the role that psychiatric drugs may play as many of these individuals are on these medications.

Some cities like Chicago boast of having the strictest gun laws on the books yet they also have high rates of gun violence. Why aren't these laws working as desired? A person intent on doing violence and committing murder will find a way to do it. We, as a society, need to find better ways of successful intervention, because when the shooting begins is the wrong time to think about what we could have done or should have done when the warning signs were there.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto (D-District 9)

Q1: There's a series of gun policy changes that we support. First the universal background checks bill that we passed under the House, eliminating the gun show loophole as well as closing the Charleston loophole about getting guns if your background check is delayed. Both of those passed out of the House already and I'm supportive of them. I also support bringing back the federal assault weapons ban and banning high-capacity magazines. I support red flag legislation and "no fly no buy" with a right to judicial hearing. Finally, [I support] raising the age to 21 to purchase firearms.

Q2. Yes, and obviously I mentioned that in my previous question.

Q3: They certainly reinforce the urgency to be able to act to prevent these in the future. There's a gun violence epidemic in this country and we need to honor those we lost with action and protect Americans going forward, so I'm hopeful to see some greater sense of urgency in Washington. However, I will tell you regardless of these two shootings in general I've also started looking at requiring a license for all firearms, a bill that Sen. Booker has proposed. So that's something that I'm interested in learning more about as a possibility to protect folks as well.

U.S. Rep. Val Demings (D-District 10)

Q1: No. 1, universal background checks. I think that every person who purchases a gun with some minor exceptions should have to go through a background check. I certainly support banning assault weapons. We've seen that one before. Somehow, in 2004, this country allowed that ban to expire. We need to reinstitute the ban on assault weapons. Those weapons were designed for the battlefield, they were not designed for the streets in our community. Risk protection orders are also another piece of legislation that will give law enforcement better tools.

Q2: Yes.

Q3: Certainly what happened in El Paso and Dayton should not have happened. It's a tragedy. But so is what happened in Orlando at Pulse. So is what happened in Parkland. So is what happened in Las Vegas and Virginia Tech and synagogues and churches in this country. I do believe that we have reached a tipping point. We did see some movement in Florida, for example, after Parkland. Was it enough? Certainly not. I do believe we certainly need more gun legislation. I'm going to do everything within my power to work with others to make sure that we see it. Each state has a direct responsibility, Florida included, to expand our gun safety laws to make sure we're working to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

State Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-District 11)

•We called Bracy's office three times and emailed an aide. She responded, "I have passed on your questions to the Senator noting your 5 p.m. deadline and your mobile number as well," but there was no response during the four days prior to press deadline.

State Sen. Linda Stewart (D-District 13)

Q1: I have a bill that will ban assault weapons that are in three categories: the AK series, the AR series and the SIG Sauer, which was the weapon used at Pulse. My legislation that I've filed the last four years is now into draft and it will be released very soon. That will deal with just the three weapons, the ones that are chosen the most by these mass shooters.

Q2: Yes. In my bill it talks about only allowing ones that can shoot 10 bullets.

Q3: No, the shootings just reinforced the need to ban assault weapons. Of course there's discussion always about mental health and the universal background checks. The No. 1 thing to me – and it should not be put down in the third or fourth category – is we have to eliminate the assault weapons in the categories I just mentioned.

State Sen. Victor M. Torres Jr. (D-District 15)

Q1: There are several common-sense gun regulations I support, including: removing the "gun how loophole" and requiring background checks for all firearms purchases; banning assault weapons purchases for the general public; limiting the size of magazines and clips to reduce the shooting capacity of semi-automatic weapons; creating a registry for all owners of assault weapons, and increasing the ability of citizens to report potential dangerous or mentally unstable gun owners through the use of "Red Flag" laws.

Q2: Yes, I have been a co-sponsor of Sen. Linda Stewart's assault weapons ban legislation for the past few years

Q3: While the recent incidents of mass shootings have brought additional media attention and discussion around this issue, it is long overdue for both Congress and the Florida Legislature to enact new gun regulations to better protect the safety of the general public and remove military-style weaponry from the hands of citizens looking to harm innocent victims in our society. While I fully support the Second Amendment rights of responsible gun owners, we need to reassess the proliferation of assault weapons and ensure we remove them from those who are proven to be a danger to themselves or others.

State Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil (D-District 30)

Q1: Banning assault weapons and closing the loophole.

Q2: Yes, and that would be the assault weapons ban. I support a ban of anything that would shoot multiple rounds because you don't need that for hunting. It's a military-style weapon, which you don't need in civilian life.

Q3: I was supportive of gun policies before any of that because we've had repetitive mass shootings, and of course we had the two big ones in Florida. It's a terrible tragedy, it's horrible, but we should have had these gun policies in place way before. Way before all these tragedies happened. It's just ridiculous.

State Rep. Jennifer Mae Sullivan (R-District 31)

• We called four times and emailed twice. We were eventually informed that Rep. Sullivan was traveling.

State Rep. Geraldine F. Thompson (D-District 44)

Q1: Universal background checks, No. 1. And closing the loopholes where you can now buy a gun online or buy a gun from a private individual. I'd like to see all of that run through the background check system. I really would like to see registration of people who have assault weapons. Registration of the weapons, not of the people.

Q2. I do. Both the weapon and those high-capacity magazines. I don't know why a private individual needs a gun with enough rounds to kill hundreds of people.

Q3: Actually, I've been asking for this for quite a while. In 2016, with the massacre at the Pulse nightclub – Pulse is in the district that I represented as a senator – I asked for a special session to deal with gun reform. I asked to meet with the governor to talk about gun reform. While the recent events make it even clearer, it's something that I've been asking for for a long time. When I asked Gov. Scott in 2016 to talk about gun reform he said that the Pulse shooting was not about guns, it was about ISIS and that the shooter had stated his allegiance to ISIS. And I asked the governor if he thought that Charleston, South Carolina, was about ISIS or if Sandy Hook was about ISIS and all of the massacres before then. I never got an answer. Never got any kind of response in terms of my requests for a meeting with him or certainly not a special session to deal with gun reform.

State Rep. Kamia L. Brown (D-District 45)

• We called four times. Spoke with two aides. Emailed those aides one time each. Confirmed request received three times.

State Rep. Bruce Antone (D-District 46)

Q1: What I would support is going back to something similar to Clinton's 1994 assault ban, banning semi-automatic weapons that you would be able to attach another magazine to. First of all, I think we need to ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles, weapons. So AK-47s, AR-15s, semi-automatic shotguns. Things of that nature, I just think we need to ban. Again, I'm not sure what we have in place right now in terms of statutes, but I would be looking to do that. Then again, semi-automatic pistols that have been modified to allow someone to place a larger clip, a larger ammo magazine on that weapon, something that would allow them to fire 30 shots, 40 shots, 50 shots, 100 shots, I just think we need to ban those types of weapons. I am not in favor of going and taking anybody's guns, so anybody that already has these weapons, they're grandfathered in. But that is what I would be looking to ban. There should be no guns sold that would allow folks to add a barrel extender on it to make the barrel longer or even anything, any weapons that would allow them to put silencers on there or noise suppressors.

Q2: Yes. Yes, I certainly do.

Q3: Yes. It's not just those kinds of terrorist events, it's the urban crime, urban gun violence. If you look at the west side of Orlando, we've had 13 murders in the last two or three weeks. This really is a huge issue. So we've got to do something. I had a bill this past session that I filed – it would have set up a commission on the prevention of crime and gun violence in urban and inner city communities, and so I kind of modeled it after that Parkland shooting. Just to try to get out there and figure out what can we do to quell, to reduce, to minimize the amount of gun violence in urban communities. You think about Chicago, I mean that stuff is jumping off every week – I want to say 360 murders already this year 1,600 folks shot, injured. We have the same problem in Florida on a smaller scale. But I'm not sure all of the state's resources, meaning the state agencies, local law enforcement, county law enforcement are really working together to come up with a good strategy to address it. This bill that I filed last year that I'm going to refile this year will say, "Hey, let's set up this commission, let's put it in place for two or three years. Let's bring out state agencies, local law enforcement together. And then let's come up with a pilot project in a city like the city of Orlando." I've even already talked to Chief Rolón about this, what kind of pilot project we can put in place to try to minimize and reduce gun violence in urban communities.

State Rep. Anna V. Eskamani (D-District 47)

Q1: We support comprehensive background checks for all gun purchases, which means closing loopholes and ensuring that individual sales also include background checks. We support a ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines. We filed a bill last session to prevent anyone who's been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from owning a firearm. It would also would give law enforcement more ability to temporarily remove firearms from a situation of reported domestic violence. We also support legislation around storage – requirements around storing your firearm in a secure fashion to prevent children and others from obtaining them. We have supported legislation around keeping firearms out of daycares.

Q2: Yes.

Q3: They reinforced the work that we've already been doing. Pulse nightclub is in our district so from that moment on, I've become very engaged in gun issues and I was one of the founding members of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

State Rep. Amy Mercado (D-District 48)

Q1: I'm very supportive of my colleagues Rep. [Carlos Guillermo] Smith and Sen. Stewart's legislation [on bump stock regulation] the last few years, which hasnot even been heard or brought forth per any of the committees in the state House or Senate. I'm also supportive of bringing back the national ban. That's not something I have control over, but I can advocate for it, the advocacy and the work that entities like the Brady group have been doing. Our local folks, like League of Women Voters. All of those are important to me and I support that level of legislation up to the banning of assault weapons. There should be absolutely no reason outside of military or law enforcement for a civilian to have assault weapons. The name of them are just that: assault weapons.

Q2: Yes, and that question is obviously very broad, because there are going to be handguns that fire multiples. But the control of how many and whom can own them is what I feel is the most important. For me, it's more of regulating it appropriately versus outright banning who can own it. It's the detail of who has it, why they have it, when will they have it, what they do with it when it's not in quote-unquote use.

Q3: So, it's kind of a yes and no question. No, because I think we have significant legislation already out there with good regulatory processes that leadership has chosen to block – leadership at the state level and the federal level. (Ed. note: on a national level, the Brady Bill; on the local level, Smith and Stewart's legislation.) So that would be the "no" side, because we already have some. If we move what we already have, it gives us the policy movement necessary to ensure the safety of our community.

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-District 49)

•Rep. Smith was away on a retreat, but his aide sent this statement: "Unfortunately he is away at a work retreat and won't be available for the next few days. However, his statements on the issue are on record multiple times in various articles, his social media, etc. And no, the events that happened have not caused him to change any views. It's reinforced his strong track record of supporting policies that end gun violence."

State Rep. Rene Plasencia (R-District 50)

• We called three times and received an email from Rep. Plasencia asking for clarification on the questions. We clarified the questions and requested a conversation, but received no response.

Seminole County

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-District 7)

See responses in Orange County section, above

State Sen. David Simmons (R-District 9)

Q1: I have previously proposed and will propose again that the State of Florida enact a ban, a prohibition upon the sale or possession of assault weapons as defined in legislation that I filed in 2018 and providing that it will apply to persons 25 years or younger and will expire, sunset, in 2025 unless further extended by the Legislature. This will give us time to actually address the root cause, the real cause, of the tragic and horrible conduct that is plaguing our nation due to these mass murders. Stopping individuals from using assault weapons will not itself stop the problem. It will only contain the extent of the crimes and the misery that these individuals cause as a result of their actions. I also plan to file or support with others a broader risk protection called red flag legislation that would permit parents and siblings to seek to have an injunction removing firearms by individuals who are at risk after appropriate due process is given to them concerning the taking of guns in their possessions. Third, I propose that we expand mental health treatment of young individuals who are at risk. We need help. Senate President Bill Galvano again was a leader in expanding mental health assistance for young people. We need to do even more. Four, it's time to debate and discuss the extent of background checks on individuals who purchase weapons, particularly weapons that are capable of creating significant injury to others such as automatic or semi-automatic weapons. I am prepared to debate and discuss other good alternatives that senators and representatives can bring forward as we try to reach a consensus on how to help solve this crisis. One thing is for sure, and that is that there are certain common denominators in many of these crimes of mass violence. We need to restrict the sale of violent video games to youth under the age of 18. We need to stop the demagoguery in our own public discourse and debate. We need to return to the civility that is essential to foster the kinds of relationships that are the hallmark of this nation and the cornerstone of this nation.

Q2: Under today's circumstances, we will need to restrict the ability of individuals to own possess, sell, purchase assault weapons. At the same time, this must be done in a manner that respects the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms and takes into consideration the reason why our founding fathers made the right to keep and bear arms the second on their list of inalienable rights. Their primary concern when you read the Federalist papers is not based on the ability to protect oneself from the robber down the street who might break in. Everyone understood that was an inalienable right. Their primary concern was with a federal government that would turn against its own people, its own citizens.

Q3: They have further enhanced my prior resolution that these things need to. The policies that I've stated in [my answer to Q1] need to be enacted. I hope that we can return to a time in which we in America don't have to be afraid of gun violence, not because we have banned guns but because it's not necessary. And there was a time in America when we did not fear the kind of conduct, the horrendous conduct we have seen in the last 10 to 15 years. I hope people will see the issue is not the knee-jerk position of just pointing to guns alone as the problem. It's the problem of a society that no longer, but still can return to, civility – that is, in essence, the treatment of all people with respect, dignity. That is important for us to return to as a nation.

State Rep. David Smith (R-District 28)

Q1: Comprehensive inter-state background checks before a gun is purchased.

Q2: No. This type of policy gives people a false sense of security.

Q3: Authorize local law enforcement agencies to conduct citizen training academies, on a not-to-interfere basis, at their range facilities to persons properly licensed with a concealed carry permit.

State Rep. Scott Plakon (R-District 29)

• We called four times and emailed Rep. Plakon, but received no response yet.

State Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil (D-District 30)

See responses in Orange County section, above

Osceola County

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto (D-District 9)

See responses in Orange County section, above

State Sen. Victor M. Torres Jr. (D-District 15)

See responses in Orange County section, above

State Rep. John Cortes (D-District 43)

• We called three times and confirmed our request was received. Emailed aide. No response yet.

State Rep. Mike La Rose (R-District 42)

• We called four times and confirmed our request was received twice. No response yet.

State Rep. Josie Tomkow (R-District 39)

• We called three times and were informed that Rep. Tomkow was travelling internationally with a 12-hour time difference, and had not yet responded to the staff email requesting an interview.

Lake County

U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz (R-District 6)

• We called three times and confirmed our request was received. No response yet.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-District 11)

• We called three times and emailed an aide. No response yet.

U.S. Rep. Ross Spano (R-District 15)

• We called three times and confirmed our request was received. No response yet.

State Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-District 12)

Q1: I'm very cautious about gun policy in that we do know that some of the policies we have actually empower people to stop violent acts. I'm also very conscious that we're talking about truly a constitutional right – not that it's unregulated; we have about 20,000 gun laws in the country. I think it needs to be a balanced look at this kind of policy as to what is actually producing greater public safety and also protecting people's right to take responsibility for themselves and others and how does that play out. That would be my general position – to be extremely cautions. We are talking about a constitutionally guaranteed right.

Q2: No, I don't. Actually, during the Clinton administration we had firearms such as the AR-15 that were banned, and they actually lifted that ban because it was not effective. Banning weapons only affects those people who live by the rules and most of these outrageous acts are by people who are not abiding by any of the rules now. Again, I would be cautious about anything that is going to bear down on a constitutional right to have firearms to protect yourselves and others from harm.

Q3: I think we should always be observant and willing to look at what's in the best public safety interest, but as far as jumping on the bandwagon that the type of weapon selected is the problem, I'm very questioning of that conclusion. What people don't realize is we have more homicides by stabbing than we do firearms. I'm still kind of puzzled by this idea that it's all about what type of weapon they select. I am very concerned by these events as to what kind of things we can do that enhance public safety. But I don't jump to the conclusion that banning firearms is the answer. There's too many incidents where they've actually prevented a violent act from occurring. I don't think a ban will [cause] a determined, deranged killer to make a different plan. I think a different plan is going to be affected when he thinks, I won't be able to get away with that there. But I do think it's time for the Legislature to do a thorough analysis of public safety and violence, and I think the private sector has a lot of other prevention rules that could be very useful. But I would be extremely cautious about disabling an ordinary citizen with constitutional rights to protect himself and others from harm, to say you can't do that. We're obsessing with the instrument of violence and we see this in Europe, we see this all over where they have much less access to firearms. They simply resort to other weapons. The problem is not the weapon, the problem is a violent mind that's willing to just kill innocent people. That's the underlying issue.

State Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-District 22)

• We called four times and were asked by staff to email Rep. Stargel twice. No response yet.

State Rep. Jennifer Mae Sullivan (R-District 31)

See responses in Orange County section, above

State Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-District 32)

Q1: Eliminate gun-free zones. Pass constitutional carry.

Q2: No. That does nothing.

Q3: We need to create a better way of identifying mentally unstable individuals and providing mental health services to them, particularly to young people.

State Rep. Brett Thomas Hage (R-District 33)

• We called three times and were asked by staff to email Rep. Hage two times. No response yet.

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