Fabiola Santiago

Don’t listen to Marco Rubio. The momentum to ban assault weapons is growing.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Cameron Kasky asks Sen. Marco Rubio if he will continue to accept money from the NRA, during a CNN town hall meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Cameron Kasky asks Sen. Marco Rubio if he will continue to accept money from the NRA, during a CNN town hall meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. TNS

Marco Rubio, a darling of gun-rights groups, is doing his trademark political dance to convince voters, while seemingly sympathetic to their concerns, that there’s no chance in hell a national ban on assault weapons will ever be restored.

This week, he urged Congress to pass mental health and school safety bills, but insisted that meaningful gun reform doesn’t have enough bipartisan support.

The Florida senator, easy on the eye and eloquent, is a gifted orator. But a bunch of kids from Parkland, hurting, angry and commanding the nation’s attention with their truth-telling, have turned Rubio World upside down, as we saw during the CNN town hall on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Not a day goes by that the students don’t call out Rubio, unfiltered, and identify his political farce to favor and court his NRA donors for what it is: “B.S.”

“Dying should not be the default,” a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High tweeted Rubio on Thursday, along with a letter she wrote him with the hashtag #StudentsStandUp. It was liked by 4,500 people and shared by 1,700, and she’s one of the lesser known students.

Likewise, Florida lawmakers — who outright refused to even consider the assault weapons ban despite pleas from student survivors, parents who lost children, and teachers who don’t want to be armed — will also find it harder to hide in the face of a new reality born out of the #NeverAgain movement: Voters and Florida cities are openly challenging the state and questioning a horrendous 2011 law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott, that prohibits cities from enacting local gun laws to safeguard their communities.

Elected officials risk a $5,000 fine and removal from office if they enact gun legislation, but they’ve had it with the lack of action in Tallahassee and Washington. Officials in the cities of Coral Gables, Weston, Coral Springs and the Broward County Commission say they’re ready to pay, and/or take their challenges to court, if that’s what it takes.

“We banned these weapons yesterday at our City of Coral Gables commission meeting,” Vice Mayor Patricia Keon told me. “The federal government won’t protect our children or adults and neither will our state government. We have to start somewhere.”

It was the initiative of Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli and it passed on first reading unanimously.

These warriors have the numbers on their side: New polls show the majority of Americans support prohibiting the sale of military-style weapons, particularly the choice AR-15 used by some of the most notorious mass shooters. National retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods have voluntarily taken the weapons off their shelves. And national companies, from Delta to Hertz, have ended their relationships with the NRA.

Just don’t expect the same kind of political courage from the Miami-Dade commission. Their recent discussion on gun control, led by Chairman Esteban Bovo, was so pathetic — with deflecting topics such as bringing “God back” into everything — that it left you pondering: How is it that we end up with such low-budget political leadership in this county?

But let me say it for what it’s worth: I’ll happily help raise the $5,000 to pay the fine if commissioners follow Coral Gables’ lead and develop some grit to ban assault weapons like the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting.

Because the momentum is impressive, and people are starting to believe that perhaps, this time, the reaction to a school shooting will prove to be different.

The mayor of Coral Springs, next-door neighbor to Parkland, is calling for a referendum to ban assault weapons, most likely on the 2020 ballot. Eight percent of the Floridians who voted in the last presidential election would have to sign a petition to get it on the ballot. It’s doable. The 60 percent vote needed for approval may be a lot harder, but a Florida Atlantic University poll this week found that 69 percent of Florida voters support banning assault weapons.

As Coral Springs Mayor Skip Campbell told the Sun Sentinel: “We can’t convince [legislators]. So we’ll have to do it our way.”

Certainly the gun safety issue will dominate the expected showdown between Sen. Bill Nelson, the incumbent Democrat, and Gov. Rick Scott, rated A+ by the NRA. Guns will also feature in the re-election campaign of state House Speaker-Designate Rep. Jose Oliva of Miami Lakes, sponsor of the school-safety bill that arms teachers despite their objections and accomplishes exactly what the NRA wants — the sale of more guns.

Yes, against all odds, this time is different. We’re turning our grief and anger into action.

The 17 lost lives of students and teachers at Douglas High School are inspiring political courage.

Democrats — and some Republicans — who’ve had enough with the gun violence epidemic are not only taking a stand, but also taking action.

No reason to listen to Marco Rubio.

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