The measures Gov. Rick Scott signed into law after the Parkland massacre were an important first step, but lawmakers’ work to protect schools and students is far from complete.
That was the view expressed by the vast majority of the Florida Influencers, a group of 50 leading voices from around the state. Nearly 80 percent of respondents in the latest Influencer Series survey said that while they supported recent gun law changes -- a higher minimum age to purchase some firearms, a ban on bump stocks and new mental health regulations -- state officials need to do more to fully address the problem.
“We’re off to a good start, but the issues are much deeper than gun access,” said Susan Towler, the vice president of the Florida Blue Foundation, noting that issues such as mental illness, family stability and poverty need to be further addressed. “We should have a multi-level approach to these social determinants.”
Another 14 percent went even further, calling the change in Florida’s laws an inadequate response to gun violence.
All told, 62 percent of those surveyed said they were either “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with how state legislators have handed gun issues, compared to only 19 percent who said they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied.”
“The Florida lawmakers did what they believe was sufficient,” said Demitri Hoth, the co-founder of the Students Speak Out activist group and a survivor of Stoneman Douglas shooting. “However, this could not be further from the truth!”
“The current legislation passed during the last session is far from perfect, however it was a good first step to address gun violence in our communities, leaving the opportunity to continue to fine-tune and implement additional measures in the future,” added Maria Alonso, the president and CEO of the United Way of Miami-Dade.
In the run-up to the November election, the Florida Influencers will share their ideas on how to solve the most pressing policy problems facing the state. Earlier this year, readers of the Miami Herald, Bradenton Herald and el Nuevo Herald identified guns as among the top five issues that matter to them this election year.
The February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead sparked a wave of student-led protests in the state and throughout the nation, and it put pressure on Florida lawmakers to pass the state’s first gun restrictions in three decades. But for the Influencers, that wasn’t enough.
“We need to dig deeper into the issue of gun control,” said Fabiola Fleuranvil, the CEO of Blueprint Creative Group. “Mental illness can’t be used as a scapegoat, because it’s a much more complicated matter and distracts from the actual issue of the types of weapons that people are allowed to purchase and carry.”
None of the Influencers in the survey thought the laws that Scott signed were too restrictive and should be repealed. And just 7 percent said that no further action on guns issues was required.
“They have gone far enough,” said Carol Dover, the president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “We must protect our constitutional rights.”
The Influencers who wanted to see more policy solutions related to guns offered a wide range of ideas for what Florida’s next governor and legislature could tackle after the election. Nearly 90 of the Influencers supported a ban on assault weapons such as the AR-15, which was used in the Parkland shooting. Gun control activists are currently working to place a measure prohibiting assault weapons on Florida’s 2020 ballot.
Other common responses included more rigorous background checks for gun purchases, comprehensive training programs for firearm owners and additional mental health services.
Beyond that, Al Cardenas, a senior partner at Squire Patton Boggs who previously chaired the American Conservative Union and the Florida Republican Party, said members of both parties should be able to find consensus on a universal gun registration system. Leadership Florida CEO Wendy Spencer suggested strengthening security at schools to prevent future tragedies. And Hoth proposed a tracking system for guns that he likened to Carfax.
Readers were also frustrated by the response from their elected officials on guns. Using the “Your Voice” online tool, they posed the following question to the Influencers this week: “Why can’t we pass sensible gun laws in the state that model successful laws from other countries?”
For many of the Influencers, powerful groups such the National Rifle Association that have lobbied against new gun restrictions are a major part of the problem.
“Vote in people who are not in the pockets or take their marching orders from this organization and watch how fast things will change for the better,” said Terry DeCarlo, an Orlando-based LGBTQ activist.
Stephen Zack, a partner at the law firm Boies Schiller & Flexner, suggested that Florida should implement a similar system to Canada’s, where firearms are separated into three classes: prohibited, restricted and non-restricted.
But other Influencers were skeptical another country’s model could be applied to the United States.
“The Constitution and culture of the United States is not like other countries,” said Carol Probstfeld, the president of the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. “A solution to gun violence will need to be uniquely American.”
In each survey, the Influencers are also asked how well they believe candidates for elected office in Florida are focusing on policy solutions in their campaigns. Here is how they responded:
Very well: 0 percent
Fairly well: 2 percent
Somewhat well: 48 percent
Slightly well: 36 percent
Not all well: 10 percent
Too early to say: 5 percent
This is the fourth of a series of surveys the Miami Herald and the Bradenton Herald will conduct with 50 Influencers through the November elections to help focus media and candidate discussion around the policy issues of most importance to Floridians. Look for the next report in two weeks when Influencers will talk about environmental issues. Share your thoughts and questions about the state’s important policy challenges and solutions here.
For more reaction from our Influencers on gun issues, look for their quotes on Tuesday’s Opinion page.
George Haj contributed reporting.