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Shootings bring gun regulation to the fore

TALLAHASSEE -- Johnny Simms wasn’t supposed to have a gun. Neither was Hydra Lacy.

Both men were felons. Each man murdered two police officers in separate cities, Miami and St. Petersburg.

The explosion of gun violence hasn’t gone unnoticed in the state Capitol, where lawmakers in the pro-gun Florida Legislature say the tragedies underscore the need to loosen the regulation of guns -- rather than restrict them.

“What these cases show is that gun-regulation doesn’t keep guns away from criminals,” said Sen. Greg Evers. “It’s time we get more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens so they can protect themselves. You don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.”

Evers, R-Baker, is sponsoring two controversial gun bills this legislative session. One would restrict physicians from asking patients about the presence of firearms in the home. The other bill would allow holders of concealed weapon permits to wear their guns out in the open -- including on college campuses. About 780,000 Floridians have such permits.

A third bill would ensure that local governments in Florida can’t pass gun-control laws. All three are being pushed by the National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful lobbies in the state capitol.

The Florida Medical Association is protesting the bill concerning doctors, saying it violates physicians’ free-speech rights. Campus police officials don’t like the proposal allowing for firearms on campus, especially after an FSU student died in a recent accidental frat-house shooting involving an AK-47. And local governments oppose the bill limiting their say over firearms.

But many say the NRA-backed bills will likely pass anyway because gun-control is a thing of the past in the Florida Legislature.

“I’ve tried to pass gun-control laws over the years and it just doesn’t happen,” said Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Aventura. “With the Internet today, you can buy anything online. There’s really not much we can do.”

But Margolis said she’ll try, anyway. She said she plans to file a bill that seeks to ban high-volume ammunition clips, such as the one used in the recent Tucson shooting rampage.

“I don’t know if it’ll even get a hearing,” Margolis said.

Gun-rights advocates like Evers say they oppose regulating the ammunition clips because it wouldn’t keep them out of the hands of criminals. Neither of the recent Florida police shootings appeared to have involved the clips.

The latest bloody chapter in Florida’s police shootings began in Liberty City last Thursday when Miami-Dade detectives Roger Castillo, 41, and Amanda Haworth, 44, searched for 22-year-old Johnny Simms, a career criminal wanted in an October murder. Simms shot and killed the two officers before he was killed by a third officer.

The murder weapon, a .40-caliber Glock hand gun, was stolen from a local night club, police said.

On Monday, as the fallen Miami-Dade officers were being honored in Miami, St. Petersburg officers Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz, 39, and Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger, 48, were searching for Lacy, 39. Like Simms, he was a known violent offender who ambushed the officers, killing them both. He wounded a third officer, a U.S. marshal, but was killed in the ensuing melee.

Those officers in the line of fire say they wish felons didn’t have guns, but they don’t know how to keep them off the streets.

“It’s easier for a criminal to buy a gun than a can of beer,” said Miami-Dade Sgt. John Rivera, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

“We don’t need more laws. We just need to deal with these hardened violent criminals. We have a very sick system. Not only did these officers pay with their lives, but citizens lose their lives every day because of it.”

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