By Justin Murray*
On March 9, 2018, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act into law. As is common with quickly written legislation motivated by emotional events, the law is rife with errors, contradictions, fails to address the underlying issue at hand, is filled with pages upon pages of text that have nothing to do with the bill’s title and, ultimately, will only make the problem it seeks to address worse. In other words, par for the course for our government officials.
Setting aside the well-documented fact that most firearms used in crimes are already illegal under current legislation, that rifles are rarely used as a tool of homicide and the term “assault rifle” is only a meaningless cosmetic determination, the Florida law has major issues.
The key issue, to get it out of the way, is the law doesn’t actually ban anything. Touted partially as a “bump stock” ban, the underlying text of the section related to this presents a not surprising lack of knowledge of the function of firearms by the Florida Congress. It reads on page 26 of the above linked bill:
790.222 Bump-fire stocks prohibited.—A person may not import into this state or transfer, distribute, sell, keep for sale, offer for sale, possess, or give to another person a bump fire stock. A person who violates this section commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 741 775.083, or s. 775.084. As used in this section, the term “bump fire stock” means a conversion kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device used to alter the rate of fire of a firearm to mimic automatic weapon fire or which is used to increase the rate of fire to a faster rate than is possible for a person to fire such semiautomatic firearm unassisted by a kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device.
Note how bump fire stock is defined. It is defined as any conversion tool that allows for a mimic of automatic fire or allows a faster rate of fire than a semiautomatic weapon. The problem with this definition is that automatic weapons do not fire faster than semi-automatic weapons in the same family. If all else is equal, receiver, trigger, etc, an AR-15 with an automatic conversion fires exactly as fast as the semi-automatic variety. This is perfectly demonstrated by Jerry Miculek firing along-side a person using an identical rifle with only the “bump stock” being the difference. Jerry fired just as fast as Eric in the video and actually was more accurate while doing so. It’s not even necessary to convert a rifle to “mimic” automatic weapon fire.
The reason for this is physics. The only difference between a semi-automatic rifle and an automatic rifle is that a semi-automatic is limited to one shot per trigger pull. What limits the fire rate of any weapon is the cycling speed, which is how fast the spent chamber is ejected, new round loaded, and firing pin reset. The only factors, apart from electronic driven rotary weapons that are too cost prohibitive to bother owning even if they were legal, driving firing speed of a weapon is receiver weight, firing force of the round and spring strength of the magazine. That’s it and even then, when these factors are optimized, it only facilitates emptying a magazine by a few milliseconds — modifications only useful for competition where a single millisecond counts. Since bump fire stock was defined as a modification to make a semi-automatic fire faster than a semi-automatic and that’s an impossible statement, the law effectively banned nothing.
The Real Problem is the Mental Health Provisions
However, this is just semantics. The real problems (apart from the 75 pages of unrelated laws) are the mental health provisions. Under the sub-provision referred to as the “Risk Protection Order Act,” the State of Florida granted itself to engage in a one-sided evaluation of an individual’s mental health and impose a full firearm restriction order on that individual without trial. This act is an ex parte order, or a temporary order, where any law enforcement agent can designate an individual as a risk and generate a court order to confiscate weapons from the targeted individual without a hearing. The law also directs law enforcement to publicly accuse the targeted individual to all family members and other residents of the individual’s home that the individual is a potential violence risk. Justification for this action can be made on flimsy grounds such as “alcohol abuse” or a witness testimony.
More chillingly, Florida has turned upside-down centuries of common law and American jurist prudence by deciding that the State has no obligation to do anything to prove the individual should be under a confiscation order and places the burden solely on the individual to prove otherwise. Per page 37:
The respondent shall have the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the respondent does not pose a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself or herself or others by having in his or her custody or control, purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm or ammunition.
All the while this is going on, the clock is ticking. Anyone who is subject to this confiscation has one year to clear their name or the State will destroy all weapons and ammunition confiscated. Given how backed up courts are already, this order is an all but guaranteed permanent confiscation.
This isn’t even the worst provision. The worst comes from the mental health laws. Per the new law, all students that seek mental health services are required to register with the school the type and reason for those services. Even a simple referral is enough to trigger a permanent branding as a potential threat. The potential for abuse is certainly evident, but worse is this will likely result in fewer parents seeking mental health services for their children to avoid them being branded a threat. The State of Florida will now require all students who engage in anything labeled under the broad category of “delinquent” to register their name and address with the Superintendent. Sure, there will be claims that these records are confidential and sealed, but sealed records frequently have a habit of being leaked.
Because of these draconian restrictions, parents will be less likely to seek any kind of services, allowing for legitimate problems to fester and result in more violence. People like Nikolas Cruz are frequently the target of bullying and social ostracizing. The provisions of this bill that seek to help such issues will more likely result in the dual effects of greater ostracizing should the information leak or refusal to seek help to avoid the risk. In fact, 71% of school shooters have been identified as the target of social and physical attacks by peers and are also twice as likely to feel like they need to be armed in a school environment. Creating greater pressures of being outed as having issues will only amplify the stress.
This is on top of the usual unrelated bills, such as the fact that, per page 54, that the State decided to amend its criminal code to make cloning a cell phone and threatening a code inspector a worse offense (15 years maximum second degree felony) than child abuse (5 years maximum third degree felony).
The bill is unlikely to result in any positive outcomes promoted by those who voted for it. Given that numerous errors are present in the bill, some fixed at the eleventh hour (such as changing the word handgun to firearm in the waiting period section, if unfixed would have just repeated an already outstanding law), few, if any, of the politicians actually read the text before voting on it or signing it into law, extending the grand tradition of politicians only voting on how nice the bill title says. With this Florida law being such a mess and provisions within so easy to abuse, the road to good intentions in the State is a superficially disguised Road to Serfdom.
About the author:
*Justin Murray received his MBA in 2014 from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.
This article was published by the MISES Institute