T I T U S V I L L E, Fla., July 24, 2001 -- When police need to find a gun that was used in a crime, and then pawned, they will be out of luck in the state of Florida.
Next month, eight of Florida's 67 counties will begin a pilot project to test a new computer system that will allow police to trace stolen property that ends up in pawn shops. But because of pressure from the National Rifle Association, one of the most commonly pawned items — guns — won't be kept in the database.
When Florida's sheriffs meet next week for their annual summer conference, the NRA is sure to be high on their hit list.
When Florida began planning its statewide database for pawn shops, the idea was to keep records of everything pawned for two years, giving police a new tool to track stolen goods including guns. Then along came the NRA.
"As it comes to guns, the statewide database will be absolutely useless," says Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth. That's because the NRA said keeping records of pawned guns is the same as registering them, which they believe violates the Constitution's Second Amendment.
"Gun registration, pure and simple," says NRA Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer. "That's our only issue with it."
The NRA wields enormous political power in Florida, so lawmakers agreed to a change: All pawned merchandise will be kept in the database for two years, except guns. Gun records will be erased after just two days.
Debate Across the Board
It's a plan that has outraged police chiefs and sheriffs across the state. Many of them, like Brevard County Sheriff Phil Williams, are longtime NRA members.
"The NRA is going to leave law enforcement one-legged when they're trying to investigate gun theft [or] violent crime with the use of a gun [when] that gun is subsequently pawned at a pawn shop," says Williams.
Even some pawn shop owners think the NRA is wrong on this one.
Mark Kersey, the manger of Space Coast Pawn and Jewelry, is a member of the NRA, but doesn't agree with the group on this issue: "If my guns were stolen, I would want to be able to find them."
The NRA says as far it's concerned the issue is closed, but Butterworth disagrees. "You should not be able to treat a firearm that's pawned any different than a microwave that's pawned," he says.
The state of Florida has just decided to take another look at the database, but until further notice, it will be easier for police to track old televisions and secondhand guitars than guns.