Twice a week from her courtroom, Florida 13th Circuit Court Judge Denise Pomponio decides who in Hillsborough County can no longer be trusted with a gun.
In just the last two months, she has taken away the firearm privileges of dozens of people, including a dad accused of threatening to “shoot everyone” at his son’s school, a woman who police say attempted suicide and then accidentally shot her boyfriend during a struggle for her revolver, a husband who allegedly fired multiple rounds in the street to “blow off steam” after losing a family member, a bullied 13-year-old witnesses overheard saying, “If all of 8th grade is missing tomorrow you will know why,” and a mother arrested for brandishing a handgun at another mom after a school bus incident between their daughters.
This is Florida’s “red flag” law in action. Passed in the wake of the horrific 2018 mass shooting at a Parkland high school, the state law provides police a path to ask a judge to temporarily bar dangerous individuals from possessing or purchasing a firearm. Since its creation, Florida judges have acted more than 8,000 times to keep guns out of the hands of people authorities deemed a risk to themselves or others, according to data maintained by the Office of the State Courts Administrator.
On Tuesday, Pomponio added another one to the list: A man accused of pointing two guns at his stepfather.
“He was enjoying the whole thing,” the stepfather told the courtroom. His stepson’s wife even filmed the encounter, he said. “He said he wanted to eff me up.” One of the guns was later found in the bed of the stepson’s 11-year-old brother, a sheriff’s deputy told the courtroom.
In the aftermath of recent massacres in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, those looking to change the country’s gun laws see in Florida a blueprint to move forward – not only because leaders moved to restrict firearms, but because it emerged out of a Republican stronghold unofficially known as the “Gunshine State.”
“The Florida law is a good law, and it’s a signal of what’s possible,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, one of the most vocal advocates in Congress for gun control, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
In Florida, a red flag policy, also known as risk protection orders, was one piece of a sprawling gun reform package that then-Gov. Rick Scott signed into law just three weeks after a teenage gunman killed 17 people inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It included $400 million in new spending for priorities like school security and mental health resources, and allowed trained school staff to carry firearms for the first time. Republican lawmakers also agreed to raise the age to own a gun to 21 and implemented a three-day waiting period to purchase most rifles.
“I knew the time for thoughts and prayers, although necessary, was not enough,” said Bill Galvano, a Republican and the former state senator who sponsored the legislation.
Galvano told CNN he began drafting the bill at his kitchen table after a tour of the carnage in Parkland. He incorporated ideas he had picked up from interviewing teachers and staff at the school. He was intent on including some gun safety reforms and focused on what he thought could pass. He was still learning how red flag laws worked when it was added to the draft.
Looking at the data on the people who had guns taken away in Florida, Galvano says, “You have to believe that makes a difference.”
Research suggests red flags have made a difference where they’ve been implemented. One analysis of Connecticut’s red flag law, in place since 1999, found that for every 10 to 20 guns removed by a risk protection order led to one averted suicide. Another study found intimate partner homicides dropped in states where authorities can prohibit people convicted of “nonspecific violent misdemeanors” from possessing firearms.
The National Rifle Association and its Florida lobbyist, Marion Hammer, fiercely opposed the 2018 gun safety legislation. The organization’s influential scorecards loomed over the head of most Republican lawmakers. Hammer, a towering figure in Florida politics for decades, called GOP supporters “turncoat Republicans” and the organization urged its members to pressure lawmakers into abandoning the legislation. Galvano acknowledged that some of his colleagues were concerned the NRA would mount primary challenges against them in the coming elections.
Former state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat who attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas, recounted the headwinds they faced with Republicans in power and the NRA throwing arounds its weight.
“Yet, we rolled the NRA,” Moskowitz said, adding: “Not one Republican who voted for that bill in Florida has paid a political price for protecting kids and doing the right thing.”
The NRA responded by docking the scorecards of anyone who voted for the bill, and it knocked Scott from an A+ to a C. The organization also filed a lawsuit against the state over the new legislation. The case remains in court under appeal.
Hammer did not respond to an email for comment.
Still, the law has survived as the legislature has grown more conservative and through the first term of Gov. Ron DeSantis. As a candidate in 2018, DeSantis said he opposed the gun restrictions in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, telling one Florida newspaper he would have vetoed it.