Friday, March 9, 2018

Despite Public Pressure, Florida Republicans Dodge a Bullet on an Assault Rifle Ban

by Nomad

How should state legislators react in the aftermath of not one but two horrific mass shooting events? Republicans in Florida struggled against public pressure to do something without offending the NRA.

More than Tone-Deafness

In a recent article, columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, John Romano, declared that the Florida legislature has gone well beyond tone-deafness. It is, he writes, a case of moral corruption.
To prove his point, he provides a list of recent decisions in Tallahassee:

  • An unpopular plan that singles out teachers unions for decertification was removed from a bill last week, and then abruptly added back by a Senate committee.  
  • A Senate committee chairman has effectively buried a bill that would toughen texting-while-driving laws, another idea with wide support among the public. 
  • Senate and House committees approved a plan to arm teachers on campus, despite opposition from the Florida PTA, part of the nation’s largest student advocacy program. 
And last but not least,

  • Committees in both the House and the Senate refused to advance plans to ban assault weapons in Florida, even as polls indicated that public support runs about 2-to-1 in favor of such bans. 
The Parkland school shooting, as horrendous as it was, was not the only mass shooting incident in Florida involving an automatic weapon.
A Sig Sauer MCX rifle, just as deadly as an AR-15, was used in the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub on 12 June 2016. 
In that event, 49 people were killed and 58 were wounded.

This legislation was filed in the aftermath of the nightclub shootings but it was never heard in either chamber. One Democrat called the bill’s reception in Tallahassee “a cricket convention.”

A Second Chance

Following the Las Vegas massacre late last year, Orlando shooting victims and victims' families renewed call for action from Florida politicians. 
A few actually listened.

State Sen. Linda Stewart (D) and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D) demanded their fellow lawmakers hold hearings on a bill (SB 196) filed by Stewart to ban assault weapons.
 Smith said
“If I sound angry, it’s because I am angry. I am angry that we can’t even have this conversation. Assault weapons have no legitimate civilian purpose. There is none. They are made to be bought off the shelf as weapons of mass destruction.”
Angel Santiago Jr., a survivor of the Pulse nightclub attack.
“We cannot continue to stand by and do nothing as our friends, our family [and] our children are continuing to be murdered. “We cannot accept mass shootings as a new norm in our country.”
Given those two extraordinary attacks occurred in the state, it seems only reasonable that lawmakers would, at least, debate the idea of a weapons ban. 

One day after the Parkland shooting, the GOP-controlled legislature rejected a ban on assault rifles, voting 19-11 along party lines to quash the legislation.
That's not to say the Republicans did nothing.

Instead of banning assault weapons, Florida Republican lawmakers called for Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to be suspended for “incompetence and neglect of duty.” Seventy-four Republican representatives signed the petition claiming that Israel "ignored repeated warning signs about the violent, erratic, threatening, and antisocial behavior of Nikolas Jacob Cruz."

Fairly ironic coming from representatives who chose to ignore the lessons of the Pulse nightclub slaughter.

As public servants, Florida state representatives have, columnist Romano argues, lost legitimacy by ignoring the will of the people. In essence, they are suggesting they know what's best for the people.
So how do legislators get away with this kind of nonsense?
A lot of it has to do with districts that are drawn in a way that favors one party over another. A lot of it has to do with voters who do not pay attention and give elected officials a free pass.
And a lot of it has to do with politicians trading favors in the final days of the legislative session.
Whatever the reasons, the solution to the problem is clear. If Floridians wish to prevent a third or fourth or tenth repeat of Parkland or Pulse, they need to vote every last Republican out of Tallahassee.
*   *   *

As a postscript to this blog post, the Florida Senate on Monday passed by a 20-18 margin a bill that would create new restrictions on rifle sales. On Wednesday, the Florida House voted 67-50 on the bill which today goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.

The legislation would increase the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21, ban “bump stocks” and require a 3-day waiting period for most gun purchases. The legislation would also start a new “Marshal Program,” permitting teachers and staff to be armed after at least 132 hours of training. 

The bill would also create new mental health programs for schools. Furthermore, it would
  • improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies, 
  • create a task force to look at mistakes made during mass shootings nationally and then make recommendations on how to continue to improve the law, 
  • and establish an anonymous tip line where students and others can report threats to schools.
It would, critics point out, not ban assault-type weapons and without that, they say, mass shootings will continue.