Hillsborough County commissioners have many powers under the state constitution and county charter, but they don’t have the power to ban assault weapons or high-capacity ammunition magazines, their attorney says.
Commissioner Les Miller asked the county attorney on Wednesday to research whether the county could enact those bans as well as require background checks for all gun purchases.
In a Friday memorandum to commissioners, County Attorney Chip Fletcher said Florida statutes exclude cities and counties from regulating firearms and ammunition, including purchase, sale, transfer, taxation, manufacture and ownership of guns.
The one exception to the statute, contained in the Florida Constitution, gives local governments the right to impose criminal background checks and a three-to-five day waiting period before a gun can be purchased.
Hillsborough passed an ordinance in 1999 requiring the criminal background check and a three-day waiting period. Holders of concealed weapons permits are exempted.
Miller said a friend had asked him to find out if the county could do anything to regulate guns. Miller invoked the memory of his son, who nearly died from a gunshot wound in the late 1990s, in asking his fellow board members to support his request of the county attorney.
His motion passed 6-1 with Commissioner Mark Sharpe voting no.
Miller said he accepts the outcome of his request.
“I asked a question that some people asked me,” Miller said. “I wanted the county attorney to do the research because they have the experts. He found out, answered the questions and that’s all I can ask.”
Meanwhile, Commissioner Kevin Beckner issued a statement Monday trying to clear up confusion among residents who thought Miller’s gun control effort was linked to a violence prevention task force Beckner proposed and commissioners approved Wednesday by a 7-0 vote.
Gun rights proponents were worried the task force would be used as a vehicle to pass local gun restrictions, Beckner said.
“They were confusing the issues, thinking that our initiative’s focus was to ban assault weapons and magazines and take away their Second Amendment rights,” Beckner said. “The original agenda item got confused with Commissioner Miller’s item, which wasn’t even on the agenda.”
Some residents who called and emailed The Tampa Tribune last week also took issue with the county hiring the Prevention Institute, a California-based nonprofit organization, to aid the panel in developing broad violence-reduction strategies.
Some critics said the institute is known to have an antigun agenda.
But Beckner said the Prevention Institute is prohibited from advocating for gun control because it is funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control. In 1996, Beckner said, Congress prohibited the CDC from studying guns so the Prevention Institute is also restricted in that regard, he said.
“It’s in their charter and the contract we have with them said they can’t lobby or advocate for gun control,” Beckner said. “We’re solely focused on how to prevent violence in our community.”
Commissioners appropriated $150,000 to hire the institute and a facilitator to work with the task force.
Beckner said the money came out of county trust fund for victim assistance, crime prevention and youth advocacy. The fund’s money comes from booking, subsistence and incarceration fees collected from inmates and convicted criminals.