The Las Vegas shooting took the place of last year’s Florida nightclub shooting as the deadliest in modern U.S. history. In Orlando, 49 people were killed and more than 50 injured when a lone gunman opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016.

In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, Northwest Floridians are speaking out both for and against gun control.

Sunday, Oct. 1, a lone gunman opened fire on a crowd of concert goers in Las Vegas, killing 58 and injuring 527. The shooter had an arsenal of guns and ammunition in his hotel room, including many rifles outfitted with “bump stocks,” devices that enable semiautomatic weapons to fire faster.

The mass shooting has reignited the gun control debate both federally and locally.

National leaders on both sides of the political spectrum called for both more gun control and more access to guns. Thursday, the National Rifle Association said it would support tighter restrictions on bump stocks.

Local leaders in Republican-dominated Northwest Florida weighed in on the issue as well. Graham Fountain, Okaloosa County Commissioner for District 1, said he was “totally opposed” to gun control measures and believed that if armed people at the Vegas shooting had known where the shooter was, they would have been able to take him down with “a bunch of bullets.”

“The mass shooting that occurred does not change my mind one bit that every citizen who can be armed should be armed,” Fountain said. “The problem with [the Las Vegas] shooting was that there were plenty of people in that group, and businesses around it, who had permits and weapons, but nobody knew exactly where the shooter was shooting from.”

Aaron Weinstock, owner of Second Amendment Shooting and Sport in Niceville, agreed there should be less regulations on gun ownership.

“Unfortunately, that event happened, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Weinstock said of the mass shooting. “The actions of one person should not take away the rights of Americans.”

But Santa Rosa County resident Gay Valimont, Volunteer Florida Chapter Leader for Moms Demand Action, a “gun sense” advocacy group, argued more gun regulations are needed to prevent both mass shootings and everyday shootings in the future. She said she is especially in favor of background checks for all gun purchases, including at gun shows.

“I absolutely do believe that we should have a background check on all gun sales,” Valimont said. “You cannot go to a gun show and buy a gun from another person that is not a licensed dealer and that be a legal transaction. There should be a background check on every gun sale.”

She also criticized Congressman Matt Gaetz for supporting a so-called “concealed carry reciprocity” law which would mean states must acknowledge a gun carrier’s home state gun laws, as well as a bill making silencers legal in all 50 states.

Gaetz said he was a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment but argued he had pushed for “common sense” gun laws in the past.

“After 9/11, no one was trying to ban planes, so I think we have to look at the human component first and foremost,” Gaetz said in a telephone interview Thursday. “That’s why when I was criminal justice chairman in the state legislature, I worked across the aisle with Democrats and Republicans to make it harder for mentally ill people to get guns in our state, so my focus is on the person, not the instrument.”

Gaetz added he believed laws such as the concealed carry reciprocity law would have been helpful for the Republican congressmen who were shot at baseball practice in Virginia in June, and that gun silencers were helpful in eliminating hearing loss for recreational shooters.

'You can't legislate yourself into safety'

Northwest Florida citizens are divided on the issue of gun control, but some agreed that following the Vegas shooting, the conversation was worth having.

Rich K., a Destin resident who declined to have his last name published, said he supported people being able to purchase and own guns and didn’t think more laws or restrictions would prevent future massacres.

“I don’t have any objections to people having [guns] and I don’t think laws preventing people from having them is going to change people from doing bad things,” he said. “Even though something like [the Vegas shooting] is bad, it happens so infrequently in the huge picture.”

Julia Tuttle, a Niceville resident, said she would support a ban on assault rifles and automatic weapons like the one used in the Vegas shooting.

“I think they need to do away with automatic weapons,” Tuttle said. “Nobody needs machine guns unless you’re in the military. They should not even be available, there is absolutely no reason for them.”

Other people said more laws wouldn’t do anything to prevent mass shootings, but laws currently on the books should be more strictly enforced.

Cathy Trotter, who lives in Destin and said she supported the National Rifle Association, believes there’s got to be “some control” on guns based on current laws.

“[The Vegas shooter] was buying an arsenal,” she said. “If the laws already on the books are not enforced, making new laws is not going to make a bit of difference.”

John Brashears agreed.

“I don’t own guns and I’m not a gun person, but I believe everybody should have the right to have a gun,” he said. “I believe if the rules in place were followed, we wouldn’t have as many issues … you can’t legislate yourself into safety.”

Gun laws gain traction in Florida house

The Las Vegas shooting took the place of last year’s Florida nightclub shooting as the deadliest in modern U.S. history. In Orlando, 49 people were killed and more than 50 injured when a lone gunman opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016.

Since that shooting, legislation has made its way through the Florida House of Representatives that would make it easier for Floridians to obtain and carry firearms, though most of that legislation failed.

During the 2017 legislative session, 20 gun bills were considered by the Florida House and the Senate, 15 of which were geared toward expanding access to guns and five that sought to impose gun control measures. Only two of the 20 bills passed, both expanding Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws, making it easier for people accused of violent crimes to claim they acted in self-defense.

A bill making it legal for the state’s 1.7 million concealed weapons permit-holders to carry their firearms openly failed, as did a bill banning assault weapons and parts that convert firearms into assault weapons, such as large-capacity magazines.

In the 2018 legislative session, at least 14 gun-related bills have been filed to date in either the House or the Senate, including a bill prohibiting the purchase, transfer or ownership of assault weapons and a bill allowing permit holders to carry guns into courthouses and temporarily surrender and store them at a checkpoint.

And in Northwest Florida, the Okaloosa County Commission voted in February to allow any non-sworn county worker with a concealed weapons permit to carry a gun on the job.

State Rep. Mel Ponder, R-Destin, said he would support legislation tightening restrictions on bump stocks and making it more difficult for mentally ill people to obtain weapons, but said gun laws would not have stopped the Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, from doing what he did.

“I am glad to see the NRA is helping lead a charge in making [bump stocks] harder to get,” Ponder said. “I am pro-Second Amendment. My ultimate goal is to preserve and protect the Second Amendment, so that’s the framework I’ll be working with concerning any legislation about guns.

“The guy in Vegas would have passed a background check,” he continued. “He wouldn’t have been on anybody’s radar. He had a mental issue. A lot of the issues now are with people driving cars into markets and such. Having tighter gun laws would not have changed the outcome of Vegas, sadly. I am going to error on the side of preserving and protecting gun owners and their right to keep and bear arms.”