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Florida loophole: Gun laws still allow mentally ill to purchase weapons in Florida

People who voluntarily commit can still buy guns
Posted: 5:39 PM, Feb 15, 2018
Updated: 2018-02-16 00:54:24Z

The images of the, once again, unthinkable in Florida is inspiring responses that are all too common here, both seen and heard.

"How do we make sure that individuals with mental illness do not touch a gun?" Governor Rick Scott asked Thursday morning.

But as Florida's Governor calls for change following a Valentine's Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County Wednesday, we found laws on guns and the mentally ill remain full of exceptions.

While the law was tightened in 2013 to restrict the mentally ill from purchasing guns, there are still a number of exceptions that ultimately give people with documented histories of mental health issues the right to purchase guns.

According to state law, while people institutionalized against their will, commonly known as the Baker Act, are prohibited from purchasing firearms, those who voluntarily commit themselves and stay on a voluntary status can obtain guns.  In addition, if a doctor determines a person's "dangerousness" is not imminent, Florida laws says they can buy guns.

"What's imminent?" asked Pat Frank, Clerk of the Court in Hillsborough County.  "Are they going to pull out a gun on you in that moment or 24 hours later, or 24 years later?"

Hillsborough County had the highest number of Baker Acts reported to the state's database last year.  Counties are required to report Baker Acts.  Hillsborough County is known to be aggressive in its reporting, which they do within 24 hours of a Baker Act.  But with the majority of people entering mental health facilities voluntarily, Frank believes the danger of not tightening up the law further is very real.

"Are you confident in saying there is a large population of potentially dangerous people who are allowed to purchase guns under Florida law?" asked Katie LaGrone.  "I do," said Frank.

It's an issue that will, once again, fuel politics and debate because of a scene neither has managed to stop.

"People are going to be rightfully concerned about their rights, but what about the rights of these students?  What about the rights of young kids to go to schools with book bags and pencils, don't they have the right to be protected by the United States government?" said Broward Sheriff Scott Israel.