Following the 2022 legislative session, Gainesville Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson returned to her district and began to feel the impact of gun violence.
“Now I’m in Tallahassee—I can read about it, but I don’t feel it,” Hinson said in a phone interview. “But when I came there, I felt it. I could actually go to funerals.”
She said community members packed the funerals for gun violence deaths, and participating in those processions prompted Hinson to ask how the youth were getting the guns. The answer she kept hearing from law enforcement: vehicle break-ins.
That’s why Hinson, a Democrat who represents parts of Alachua and Marion counties, filed a bill this session to address burglaries from any form of transportation. The Storage of Firearms in Private Conveyances and Vessels bill, or HB 571, requires gun owners to secure their firearms stored in conveyances, from cars to boats.
Hinson said the bill serves as her top priority during the ongoing legislative session. She points to the recent triple murder of three teens in Marion County as proof of the urgency. Law enforcement arrested and charged a 12-year-old and two teens for the deaths.
“They’re killing children; they’re killing each other—crazy,” Hinson said. “I don’t even think they understand once they pull that trigger, the bullets not coming back.”
Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said at a press conference that at least one of the guns used in the murders was stolen from a vehicle.
“These juveniles shouldn’t even possess a handgun, but they did,” he said, adding that all six teens were in the same vehicle at the time of the shooting and the teens were searching for vehicles to burglarize.
In Gainesville, four people were injured in three separate shootings on April 17 and 18, continuing an ongoing issue that has plagued the city.
Gainesville Police Chief Lonnie Scott told the city commission in February that conveyance burglaries remain a source of illegal firearms. In 2022, Gainesville police reported 222 stolen firearms, including 115 taken from vehicles. Those numbers are higher than 2021 but lower than 2020.
“Many of those were unsecured conveyances,” Scott said. “That is a serious problem.”
Gainesville Police Department firearms statistics:
- 326 stolen firearms
- 158 from conveyances
- 189 stolen firearms
- 103 from conveyances
- 222 stolen firearms
- 115 from conveyances
Persons shot or injured from gunfire
- 51 with 6 self-inflicted incidents
- 47 with 8 self-inflicted incidents
Recovered or seized firearms
Gainesville Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker held a juvenile gun violence town hall in December with police chiefs from Alachua and High Springs. Then-Alachua Police Chief Chad Scott highlighted the issue of unlocked vehicles at the time, noting that youth often search whole areas for the easy targets.
However, smashing windows has also remained a popular tactic. On Dec. 1, 2022, the Gainesville police responded to an apartment complex where 43 vehicles had had their windows smashed in a rash of break-in burglaries.
Hinson’s bill prevents gun owners from storing their firearms in unoccupied, unlocked vehicles “unless the firearm is kept from ordinary observation and view and locked within a trunk, utility or glove box, or another locked container or secured with a device or mechanism that is securely affixed to the private conveyance or vessel.”
The bill directs law enforcement agencies to conduct an education campaign to inform gun owners of the requirements. It also provides sanctions for any parent of a juvenile found to have stolen a firearm from a vehicle, saying parents are responsible to supervise their children.
Hinson ran into problems after filing her first version. She said House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, pushed against the wording in one of the bill clauses, and without Republican support, she said the bill will remain stuck.
The original bill contained a clause that punished violators with a misdemeanor if a firearm stolen from their vehicle was used in a crime. So, Hinson withdrew that bill before filing a new one that eliminated the punishment clause.
“I think if we don’t work together, Republicans and Democrats, this is gonna start hitting our children,” Hinson said. “Then we’re going to start wanting to do something, and it’ll be too late.”
Hinson said she is trying to keep the issue separate from the permitless carry bill the Legislature passed and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law on April 3. She doesn’t want the bill to get muddied by issues of Second Amendment rights and said it only applies to those who exercise their gun rights.
The bill sits in the Criminal Justice subcommittee for the House—the first of three committees the bill needs to pass. Hinson said she thinks Republicans see the value of the recommendation but don’t want that recommendation coming from a member of the minority party, increasing her need for a Republican co-sponsor.
State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-District 16, filed a mirror bill in the Senate, but that bill also remains in its first committee.
Gainesville juvenile arrests from 2018 through 2022 (one juvenile may have caused multiple offenses listed):
- Conveyance burglaries: 413
- Concealed firearm: 68
- Attempted homicide/ homicide: 29
- Possession of firearm/weapon by juvenile delinquent: 29
- Shooting/throwing deadly missile into a dwelling/vehicle: 6