Florida bill would establish tougher penalties for children caught carrying guns

A new bill in Florida would create stricter penalties for children caught carrying guns, and the state House is expected to hear arguments over the proposal this week.

House Bill 1181, or the Juvenile Justice Bill, would make a minor’s first illegal possession of a gun a first-degree felony instead of a first-degree misdemeanor, and would increase the time a child would spend in a juvenile detention facility. A first-time offender would spend five days, a second-time offender would spend 21 days and a third-time offender would be committed to a juvenile residential program.

State Rep. Berny Jacques, a Republican, is a sponsor of the legislation.

“We’re going to be safer as a result when we address these types of offenses,” Jacques told FOX 13 Tampa Bay. “Secondly, this is going to help these young people because I saw it as a prosecutor in the adult court system. You had young people who were getting away with the same offenses as juveniles, but when they were in the adult system, it was much less forgiving.”


Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri helped state lawmakers create the bill, according to FOX 13.

“The laws need to change,” Gualtieri said at a December news conference. “We need to get serious and we need to get tough and these kids need to get locked up. Send a message.”

Gualtieri was speaking after a 14-year-old boy shot and killed his 23-year-old sister, Abrille Baldwin, as she was attempting to break up an argument over Christmas presents between him and their 15-year-old brother on Christmas Eve in Largo, Florida. The 15-year-old then allegedly shot his 14-year-old brother.

Both brothers had previous charges for gun possession. Gualtieri suspects the guns used in the shooting were stolen from unlocked cars, which officials say is how the guns involved in most crimes by teenagers in the area are accessed.

“This proliferation of guns on the streets and guns in this area and guns in the hands of these kids, this is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Gualtieri said.


“And what happens to them? ‘Oh, well, you know, he’s only 14. He really doesn’t understand what’s going on. We’ll just give him probation.’ It’s not working. It is not working … enough of this slap on the wrist,” he added.

Gualtieri said the bill was being worked on even before Baldwin’s death.

“I really hope the Florida Legislature in the upcoming legislative session will get serious about it and will pass legislation that will hold these kids accountable and help us to slow this down because if we don’t slow it down, we’ve got a big problem,” Gualtieri said.

The Fiscal Policy Committee in the Senate will hear the House’s companion bill on Thursday. 

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