Steve Frappier was one of the lucky ones in baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6.
As a gunman abruptly opened fire that afternoon, killing five and wounding six, Frappier escaped injury when a bullet miraculously struck the laptop in his backpack instead of him.
Frappier, a former Coconut Grove resident who moved to Atlanta last summer, is taking that life-changing experience and turning it into advocacy.
He has joined Everytown for Gun Safety and other national gun-control organizations in calling on Florida lawmakers to oppose a slew of NRA-backed measures this spring that would make it easier for conceal-carry permit-holders to have guns in public places.
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Among those measures is one that now hits close to home for Frappier: Allowing concealed guns in airport terminals.
Some conservative lawmakers argue the Fort Lauderdale airport tragedy might have had a different outcome or might have ended sooner with fewer casualties had concealed-weapons permit-holders been legally allowed to carry their guns in baggage claim.
The shooting lasted less than 90 seconds.
“That type of legislation actually feels like the survivors are being blamed — as if we should have been able to have been armed and done something about it,” Frappier said.
Frappier’s story is one of many that advocates from Everytown and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America hope will resonate with lawmakers as the two groups host a lobby day at the Florida Capitol on Tuesday. Frappier can’t attend in person, but others whose lives have been affected by gun violence will be there — including family members of some of the 49 slain in the Pulse nightclub massacre last June in Orlando.
“It’s my sincere hope that Florida legislators will show some courage and stand up to the powerful gun lobby that currently has a stranglehold on Florida,” said Michelle Gajda, state chapter leader for Moms Demand Action.
She added: “Our hope is that when they’re exposed to what these bills will do, the kind of chaos they will cause, the money that they will cost Florida and the danger that Floridians will be in if they pass, that they will reconsider and that they will take the time to form a balanced opinion on these bills — instead of blindly following the wishes of the gun lobby.”
The Republican-led Florida Legislature includes many lawmakers — several in leadership roles — who support the NRA’s desire to reduce restrictions on gun-owners.
Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association’s influential Tallahassee lobbyist, dismissed the gun-control advocates’ efforts, including their event Tuesday.
“The overwhelming majority of Floridians support the constitutional right of self-defense and legislators know that,” she said in an email.
But volunteers with Everytown and Moms Demand Action argue most Floridians are actually on their side — and they say they now have polling data to prove it.
A week after the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting, Everytown commissioned a survey of 600 registered Florida voters to gauge their opinion on one key gun bill proposed for the 2017 session — SB 140, which would allow conceal-carry permit-holders to openly carry in Florida and which would lift current concealed-weapons bans in K-12 schools, government meetings, college and university campuses and airport terminals.
More than 1.7 million people have concealed weapons permits in Florida, the most of any state. Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, the bill sponsor, said at the end of January he didn’t plan to pursue the bill anymore, opting for multiple, narrower bills instead that call for the same reforms. SB 140 has not yet been formally withdrawn.
The Everytown poll found 65 percent of respondents oppose Steube’s measure and, more specifically, that:
▪ 72 percent oppose guns in local government meetings,
▪ 69 percent oppose guns in K-12 schools,
▪ 76 percent oppose guns on college and university campuses,
▪ and 75 percent oppose guns in airport terminals.
The results, which have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, were shared exclusively with the Herald/Times. The survey was conducted by Schoen Consulting, a New York City firm whose political clients include prominent Democrats. An equal proportion of Republicans, Democrats and independents were polled for the Everytown survey.
“Legislators are advancing their own agendas right now,” Gajda said. “It’s obvious from this data that Floridians do not support this legislation.”
The poll also found that 59 percent of those surveyed felt the Fort Lauderdale shooting showed “exactly the reason why airports should remain gun-free zones.” Meanwhile, only 27 percent of those surveyed shared conservative lawmakers’ viewpoint that had the Fort Lauderdale airport not been a “gun-free zone,” the casualties might have been fewer.
Frappier — who also opposes open carry and guns on college and university campuses — said arguments in favor of allowing concealed weapons in airport terminals simply “don’t equate.”
“The main issue was there was no armed security down in baggage claim,” Frappier said. “There’s something even simpler to be done than, ‘Oh, well, we need a law to do this.’ Look at your security protocols and have people adequately staffed in certain areas.”