Miami-Dade commissioners on Wednesday managed a unanimous, bipartisan vote on national gun policy. And that came with compromises.
In a 9-0 vote, the commission broke with its prior position endorsing a national ban on assault weapons and instead backed a policy statement with more nuance. The resolution calls for Congress to either renew the ban on rifles like the AR-15 used in last week’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, or for Congress to impose restrictions that fall well short of a ban.
Those restrictions, proposed by the commission’s Republican chairman, Esteban “Steve” Bovo, include barring sales to most people under the age of 21, imposing a waiting period for the purchases, and requiring a mental-health review for potential buyers.
“I do want to support you,” said Bovo, one of four No votes in 2016 for the commission’s resolution endorsing a full renewal of the national ban on assault rifles, which was in place between 1994 and 2004. “I’m not an NRA member. The NRA does not support me. I do not own a gun.”
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Sponsor Barbara Jordan, a Democrat and an advocate for the assault-weapons ban, accepted Bovo’s amendment and the symbolic resolution passed with almost no debate. Bovo and fellow Republican Rebeca Sosa joined six Democrats and one independent in the unanimous vote, which also calls for Florida to impose one of the two options at the state level as well as repeal a Florida law barring local firearm regulations.
Most notable may have been the votes not cast. Four Republicans — Bruno Barreiro, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Joe Martinez and Javier Souto — left the meeting before Jordan’s resolution came up for discussion.
Barreiro, who is running for the Republican nomination to fill the congressional seat being vacated by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a left-leaning district, returned after the vote to say he endorsed the amended resolution. He voted for renewing the national ban in 2016. Diaz and Souto voted no, and Martinez was not in office.
Wednesday’s perfunctory vote captured the reality of the gun-control debate after 17 people were left dead by a single teenage shooter at the Parkland high school. While gun-control advocates saw the moment as a potential “game changer” in the push to overcome Republican objections on new firearms restrictions, any bipartisan agreements will likely fall far short of the ban passed in the early 1990s, when Democrats controlled the White House and Congress. Even when Democrats held both branches of government again in 2009, President Barack Obama did not pursue a renewal of the ban before Republicans retook the House in early 2011.
“I want to make sure we’re doing something that will have broad support,” Jordan said after the vote.
The afternoon vote came at the end of a meeting that began with a passionate discussion on the next steps after Douglas, with the officially nonpartisan commission offering a grab bag of hot-button issues in the nation’s renewed argument over gun rights and school safety.
Diaz said he wanted to explore arming willing teachers — a security measure endorsed later in the day by President Donald Trump in a White House meeting with Stoneman Douglas High students.
“Some like it, some don’t,” Diaz said. “With the proper training, and the [right] mental background, we could do” it.
Bovo called for better screening and other measures, but also touched on the idea that culture is part of the problem. “Between the video games, between the passion of making sure God is not spoken — not in this building, not in the public park, not in the public domain — you know I wonder some time if we are not paying the price,” he said.
Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat, lambasted Tallahassee for the 2011 law that promises a $5,000 fine and expulsion from office for any mayor or commissioner who enacts local rules on gun control. “We have been muzzled,” she said. “We can demand of our state Legislature the freedom to listen to our constituents and adopt sensible, local gun-control measures. Other states are not preempting local communities from doing that.”
Carlos Gimenez, the county’s Republican mayor, called for more screening of mental-health problems for buyers of assault weapons. He also endorsed laws limiting the quantity of ammunition that should be available for rapid-fire rifles. “Even if you don’t ban assault rifles,” he said, “there’s no reason to have 30-round clips.”
Jordan cautioned against letting mental-health efforts distract from the real crisis: easy access to rapid-fire assault rifles. “Everybody who uses an automatic weapon is not a mental health person,” she said. “Yes, we do need to deal with mental health. But why would we need an assault weapon — that’s meant for combat — for everyday use? I don’t understand that.”
The vast majority of our elementary schools are designed in such a way that if you can skip over a three-foot fence, you can gain direct access to classrooms.
Miami-Dade schools chief Alberto Carvalho
The discussion centered around a request Tuesday from Miami-Dade’s government, its school system and its state attorney for a $30 million boost in state funding to protect local schools from mass shootings in the wake of the massacre in neighboring Broward County. “Are our schools safe?” Gimenez asked. “Yes. But they can be safer.”
The money would pay for more school police to assign officers full time to elementary schools, social workers and counselors to be deployed countywide, and automatic locking doors, bulletproof glass and other measures that might foil a shooter.
Alberto Carvalho, the schools superintendent, told commissioners the county’s open-air design for most school campuses doesn’t lend itself to the kind of security needed to be fully secure. “The vast majority of our elementary schools are designed in such a way that if you can skip over a three-foot fence, you can gain direct access to classrooms,” he said. “These funds … will help us continue to harden our schools by continuing to eliminate multiple points of access.”
Carvalho is a registered independent who mocked recent calls by Trump and other Republicans to restrict “bump stocks” — a rifle modification used in the Las Vegas shooting last October but not in Parkland — as a good reason for kids to be “laughing … and crying … and dying.”
On Wednesday, he portrayed Parkland as a horrifying, gruesome example of a far more pedestrian plague for children.
“We’re all horrified, and we bend our heads and we pray,” Carvalho said. “But last year alone, 16 school-age kids died of gun violence.”
“This is a crisis that has been in our communities for a long time,” he said. “It just came packaged in an awful, awful way last week.”