Fred Grimm

NRA wants more gunslingers in the nation’s bloodiest mass-shooting state

Behold, the voice of an angry deity has thundered down from Mount Olympus. Or rather, down from the Red Hills of Tallahassee, but you get the idea.

Coming from anyone else associated with Florida politics, even from the lips of Rick Scott himself, Marion Hammer’s pronouncement would have been regarded as an outrageous presumption. Imagine her audacity: some unelected busybody warning the sheriffs of Florida that they had no right to testify about pending firearm legislation. Not when their words conflicted with the positions of the National Rifle Association.

“It's just patently wrong,” the NRA’s 78-year-old lobbyist told Steve Bousquet of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times capitol bureau last week. “They are there to protect our rights, not to come to Tallahassee at taxpayer expense to take away our rights.”

Coming from anyone else, that would have been dismissed as crazy talk. Florida sheriffs and police chiefs regularly don their dress uniforms and journey to the capitol to offer professional opinions about legislative proposals affecting public safety. No one outside the walls of the state penitentiary ever suggested that their testimony represented some kind of malfeasance.

Doesn’t matter. The all-powerful NRA lobbyist has had it with upstart sheriffs and their reservations about legislation that would allow citizens to openly display firearms or permit gunslingers on campuses or in airports or around other “gun free” zones. Florida’s head gun moll told Bousquet that she was adding another item to her legislative wish list: a measure that would require sheriffs who intend to testify in favor of stricter gun laws to pay their own way to Tallahassee, to come on their day off, to wear street clothes.

All that’s preposterous, of course. But I wouldn’t bet against Hammer. Not this year. (She told Bousquet that she already has a legislator willing to sponsor the sheriff gag law.) This could be a banner year for Florida’s gun-rights absolutists.

Hammer’s sycophants in the Legislature (and in the governor’s mansion) were undeterred by the news, reported in Politico, that Florida led the nation in mass-shooting casualties in 2016. (That’s using a definition of “mass shooting” as an episode of gun violence that left at least four victims dead or wounded.)

Florida racked up 92 deaths and 194 wounded in mass shootings in 2016, led by the single bloodiest firearm incident in our bloody national history on June 12, when 29-year-old Omar Mateen murdered 49 and wounded another 53 in a gun rampage at an Orlando nightclub. After a three-hour standoff, a police bullet added Mateen’s death to the night’s body count.

Meanwhile, 2017 started off with a bang, after a deranged gunman killed five and wounded six others at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6. Then, on Monday, gunmen denigrated the Martin Luther King Day celebration in northwest Miami-Dade County, leaving eight wounded, most of them youngsters.

You’d think that these eruptions of gun horrors would sober Tallahassee’s gun mavens, if for no other reason than that Florida’s economy is utterly dependent on tourism. Eleven bullet-riddled bodies along an airport luggage carousel is not a postcard image apt to please the visitors and convention bureau.

But State Rep. Jake Raburn, a Republican from Lithia, with no apparent sense of irony, is still pushing H.B. 6001, also known as the “guns in airport bill,” that would allow concealed-weapon permit holders to carry guns into airport passenger terminals outside of the security checkpoints.

Raburn’s bill goes nicely with legislation from Sen. Greg Steube (a Republican from Sarasota) that would similarly allow gun-permit holders to pack heat in elementary and secondary schools, on college campuses, in public meetings and, of course, in airport terminals.

If you thought the shooting carnage Florida has suffered over these last few months would have blunted rightwing lawmakers’ gun lust, you’d be dead wrong. “Quite the opposite, actually,” Rep. Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat, told me via email. Jenne, among the NRA’s least favorite lawmakers, said the spate of mass shootings, instead, have been “held up as examples as to why firearms should be more prevalent in society.”

The gun champions embrace the fantasy notion that some “good guy with a gun” will take out a mass murderer, so long as enough citizens are armed. Sheriffs and police chiefs, who must deal with reality, worry about collateral damage when untrained civilians start shooting. They worry about their officers trying to sort out a shooting scene with a number of gun-wielding strangers exchanging gunfire. (The alt-right’s answer for law enforcement, of course, is shoot the black guy. Or, failing that, take out the Hispanic dude.)

Jenne said that the “chances of the Legislature loosening gun regulations is slightly better than 50-50, but it will really be up to the Florida Senate. I can virtually guarantee that bills of this nature will sail through the Florida House.”

Last year, Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, singlehandedly thwarted the NRA’s pet bills to allow open-carry guns on college campuses and in airport terminals. He kept the gun bills bottled up in his committee. “I'm going to make what I think is a good decision based on sound policy reasons and it's no different than any other issue,” he told the Herald. As he told the Sun-Sentinel, “I’m a common sense guy.”

But Diaz de la Portilla, the senator who dared the wrath of Marion Hammer, was defeated in November when he ran for re-election.

So much for common sense in the mass-murder state.