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proposal tried again

Democrats hope shootings involving children will advance the chances of a bill requiring trigger locks. Republicans are skeptical.

[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
A bill to require locks, like this one, on the triggers of guns kept where children live was proposed last session, but quickly died. The governor has said he would not support further gun control.

legislature 2000
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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- A week after a Michigan first-grader shot and killed a classmate, Democratic lawmakers in Florida say they want gun owners to put trigger locks on any firearm kept where children live.

The Republican-controlled Legislature dismissed a similar measure last year and is skeptical that a bill could pass this year, but Democrats hope the recent shootings involving children will highlight the need for the safety device.

"This is not an anti-gun bill. This is a safety bill," said Sen. Tom Rossin of West Palm Beach.

The bill's prime sponsor, Jacksonville Sen. Betty Holzendorf, said she is tired of hearing about child shootings, particularly ones that could have been prevented by trigger locks.

"Shame on the majority of this Legislature for standing by in its ivory tower while children are dying from gun violence," Holzendorf said. "There is a price to pay for the stranglehold the gun lobby has on politicians in Florida, and that price is our children's lives."

[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
State Sen. Betty Holzendorf, center, sponsor of a gun trigger-lock bill, hugs Georgeit Alberre. With them is Nabil Alberre, holding a plaque of the couple's son, who died last year when he was accidentally shot. Holzendorf scolded legislators about being in the thrall of gun lobbyists on the issue, but opponents say that the proposed law is unenforceable and redundant. 
Holzendorf cited state Health Department statistics showing that 17 children ages 1 to 14 died from January to September last year from gunshot wounds -- though it was not clear how many of those deaths resulted from children shooting the guns. The senator compared trigger locks to child safety seats in cars, which are required by law.

Republican Senate President Toni Jennings met with trigger lock manufacturers before the legislative session and "has a good understanding" of how they work, according to spokeswoman Edie Ousley. "That is something that she will be looking closely at during the session," Ousley said.

The bill would have to pass the Senate and the House, where Speaker John Thrasher was skeptical of its merit. "To require trigger locks is an effort in futility to make people who are not going to cooperate be cautious with weapons," Thrasher said. "What are we going to do, have a bunch of trigger lock police go around and check everyone?"

Asked if the bill would pass, Thrasher said, "I doubt it will be acceptable to the House, but I will talk to the leadership."

Gov. Jeb Bush suggested last week that he would not support further gun control.

Bush spokeswoman Elizabeth Hirst said Thursday, "We have not taken a definite position on this. We have a couple of good laws on the books." Florida law makes it a crime to keep loaded firearms within the reach of children.

Holzendorf proposed the trigger lock bill last year, but it never came up for a vote. Holzendorf accused Republicans of stalling the bill under pressure from the gun lobby.

National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Trigger locks cost as little as $7, according to Holzendorf. Some government agencies give them to gun owners at no charge.

Democrats are proposing additional gun-related bills to eliminate certain types of weapons and to prevent carrying firearms into health care facilities.

Staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.

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