Few restrictions on assault rifle purchases in Florida

Published: Jun. 14, 2016 at 5:48 PM EDT
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By: CBS News; AP

June 14, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CBS News)-- As in mass shootings elsewhere, the massacre of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub is raising questions about access to guns - assault rifles, in particular.

In Florida, buying one is no problem as long as you're 18, a legal resident of the United States, aren't a felon or a domestic abuser and have no documented mental health or substance abuse issues.

Here are the state's basic rules:

  • All firearm purchases from federally licensed dealers require a background check, regardless of whether the buyer has a concealed weapons permit.
  • There is no waiting period to buy a rifle. There is a three-day waiting period to buy a handgun, and handgun buyers must be 21 or older. Some counties and jurisdictions impose longer waiting periods.
  • People charged with or convicted of a felony can't buy guns. Neither can people who have been convicted of two or more DUIs, have been involuntarily committed to a mental health hospital or have a restraining order against them.
  • Florida is generally considered to be a state with minimal restrictions on firearms purchases, security analyst and former ATF special agent Matthew Horace told Crimesider.

    "It's easy to buy a gun there -- people go to Florida to buy guns because it's firearm-friendly," Horace said. When it comes to assault rifles, a purchaser can walk away with the gun immediately after clearing a background check, Horace said.

    Whether Florida gets its gun laws right depends on the perspective. Brian Malte, the national policy director for the Brady Campaign, said getting a gun is far too easy in Florida and private sales don't require a background check.

    "The corporate gun lobby seems to use Florida as their example, and unfortunately we've seen what that example has produced, including George Zimmerman, who had a history of violence and an arrest record and yet was able to carry a concealed gun," Malte said, referring to the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. "Florida is certainly no shining example of gun laws."

    But former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey believes the state gets it right. He ran the agency that conducts background checks for gun purchases.

    "I've had an opportunity to look at what a lot of states are doing. Florida is ahead of the pack with what they're doing with firearms," Bailey said. "It works as well in Florida as it does anywhere else."

    Of course, some of the disqualifiers, like mental health and substance abuse, would have to be self-reported if there's no record of the problem.

    Bailey said people can't be denied a gun just because other people think they're mentally ill.

    "Not in a free society," he said. "There has to be some sort of determination that that person is mentally incompetent."

    Florida also requires training and a background check before someone can get a license to carry a gun in public. But very few people are denied.

    Mateen had a concealed carry permit from the state of Florida, CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton reported. According to the Associated Press, Mateen had a firearms license since at least 2011, and it was set to expire in 2017.

    There are about 1.6 million concealed weapons permit holders. In the past 19 years, only 24,713 applications have been denied, and 17,557 of those were because the application wasn't filled out properly, not necessarily because the applicant didn't qualify.

    Former Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson, who ran the agency that issues the permits, doesn't believe gun laws need to be changed. He said assault rifles like the one Omar Mateen used in the Orlando attacks also are used for legitimate purposes.

    "People use AR-15s to hunt deer, to hunt hogs, to hunt all kinds of game," he said. "Think of the over 1 million people that have them and have never misused them, and they want to do away with certain aspects of the gun permitting or buying weapons because of one person's lawlessness."

    Milton reports during the assault, Mateen, 29, was armed with a Sig Sauer MCX rifle, purchased on June 4, and a a Glock 17 handgun, purchased on June 5. The weapons were purchased legally, according to the ATF. Authorities have also said a .38 caliber weapon was found in his vehicle.

    Like other assault rifles, the Sig Sauer MCX is legal to purchase and possess in Florida -- as long as they are in semi-automatic mode. The assault-style rifle fires one round per trigger pull, but is capable of firing hundreds of rounds within minutes, Horace said.

    Mateen bought the handgun and rifle legally at the St. Lucie Shooting Center in Port Lucie, near his home and about 120 miles south of Orlando. The owner of a gun store, Ed Henson, said Mateen Monday passed a full background check and had two security licenses. Henson said that if he hadn't bought the guns from him, he would've purchased them somewhere else. Henson told reporters during a news conference Monday outside his business that he is sorry this "evil person" bought the guns from his store.

    Henson said his store is cooperating with federal investigators and said "We follow the rules; we don't make the rules."

    "I'm sorry he picked my place," Henson said. "I wish he picked no place."