Miguel Palacios is a 54-year-old lieutenant in the Miami Dade Police Department’s Homeland Security Bureau. He owns several guns and thinks mass shootings like the one in Uvalde Texas can be prevented by being more responsible. He had this to say regarding Florida and U.S. weapons laws.
“Gun rights are important, whether the socialists or Communists in this country like it or not,” he said. “They are in our Second Amendment of the constitution,” he said. “It’s to be able to protect myself, plain and simple. You have to be responsible and if you’re not responsible and you did something stupid or atrocious you deserve to get what’s coming to you.”
Following the May 24 shooting of 21 people in Texas, the national conversation shifted to focus on gun legislation, which is sure to play a role in midterm elections this November. Florida voters are divided on gun policy. Some believe stricter gun laws are the only way to stop mass shootings, while others say they don’t want their Second Amendment rights abridged.
Current gun policy in Florida does not require a permit or license to buy a firearm, nor does it require registration. Any resident 21 years of age or older can legally purchase a gun pending a background check. There are no exceptions to this requirement. All applicants must be checked for past felonies, mental health issues and other conditions that could make them ineligible to buy or own a firearm.
Floridians were grief-stricken on Valentine’s Day in 2018 after a gunman murdered 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The 18-year-old shooter legally obtained the AR-15 rifle he used that day, despite a well-documented history of mental illness so concerning that he was prohibited from carrying a backpack into school.
The tragedy inspired concerned citizens to fight the state’s lax gun laws, which they felt contributed to the school massacre. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act was passed in 2018 to close loopholes in legislation that may have contributed to the shooting. The act changed Florida gun policy and prohibited long-gun sales to those under 21, imposed a three-day waiting period and banned bump stocks.
Florida and its legislators have regularly been awarded an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, which is given to those who vigorously defend and promote the Second Amendment. Among those distinguished with an A+ NRA rating is Marco Rubio, incumbent Republican state senator up for re-election. Rubio opposes bans on semi-automatic weapons and universal background checks, but supports the right to carry.
A Pew Research survey conducted this past March shows more than half of registered voters from both parties said gun policy is very important to their vote in the 2022 congressional elections.
As a Miami-Dade police officer, Palacios has seen lots of crime, but rarely has he responded to shootings or robberies that include firearms. “I’ve always been pro-gun and actually being a part of law enforcement made me even more pro-gun,” he said.
Palacios says it’s never been easy to buy a gun in Florida. “There were rules to be followed, criteria to be met, documents to be filled, to legally purchase a gun, so it isn’t as loose as people want you to believe,” he said.
Many Florida Democrats think the state needs stricter gun laws. Rep. Val Demings, the frontrunner from the party’s Senate nomination to oppose Rubio, is a former Orlando police chief and proud supporter of strict laws on ghost guns and firearms in general. She has said publicly many times that criminals’ access to weapons should be limited before they can commit a crime.
Demings spoke out after the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando where 49 dead and another 53 injured, Demings called for universal background checks and bans on high-capacity magazines like the ones used by the shooter. Floridians have seen many tragedies in recent memory that have left them speechless, and gun rights and gun violence have been a forefront issue for a reason.
Alex Dudley, a 28-year old Miami lawyer and Democrat, favors stricter gun laws. “I think gun legislation like universal background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases would help stop mass shootings,” Dudley said. He also believes military-style weapons like the AR-15 shouldn’t be in the hands of average civilians. As a voter, he’s looking for candidates that will meaningfully act to advance common sense gun laws.
In an emotional address on the Senate floor on May 24th, Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy hailed Florida’s gun laws and said they are a signal of what is possible when it comes to passing federal legislation. In light of the Uvalde school shooting, Congress is working on passing a federal gun-control measure. A package of bills, known as the “Protecting Our Kids Act,” has been passed through the committee on the judiciary and is now left to the House of Representatives to vote on. The act echoes Florida gun policy in that it would raise the federal age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21.
In 2018, Republican legislators and the NRA sued to reverse the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act and lower the age to purchase a firearm in Florida from 21 back to 18. This failed as U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker dismissed the lawsuit since he believed the Second Amendment had nothing to do with the bill. Now the NRA is urging federal courts to see this issue through, as they believe that this bill infringes on young Americans’ rights to bear arms at age 18, when they can be drafted into the military and serve as police, but can’t constitutionally own their own firearms.
Gov. Ron DeSantis says the state legislature is likely to pass a bill that would allow the constitutional carry of firearms without a license. If the bill becomes law, it would remove the requirement for a concealed weapon permit and drastically increase the number of areas where residents can carry their guns.
Palacios said despite his pro-gun stance, he is bothered by mass shootings. “Gun-rights people, like myself, are also very upset and it is very tragic, the same way it is for everyone else,” Palacios said in regards to the recent Uvalde mass shooting. He doesn’t believe stricter gun legislation is the answer though. “It’s not the instrument, it’s the person wielding that instrument.”
This story is part of a series highlighting key issues in this fall’s critical midterm elections. To read other articles in the series, click here.