Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring “never again.”’
A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he won’t raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across Florida and the nation, the rising voices demanding change following last week’s massacre renew hope that this tragedy may finally break the pro-gun fever gripping Washington and Tallahassee.
The politicians have failed to act following previous mass shootings. An assault weapons ban and universal background checks on gun purchases died in the U.S. Senate following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut, and all seemed hopeless if the innocent faces of those lost first-graders would not move Congress.
Similar cries for change were ignored after 49 were killed in 2016 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and 58 were killed in 2017 at the Las Vegas country music concert. Higher death tolls proved to be no greater motivation for lawmakers owned by the National Rifle Association.
At the moment, this feels different. The shooting rampage that killed 17 on Valentine’s Day occurred at a well-regarded high school in an affluent Fort Lauderdale suburb with a strong sense of community. It affected high school students coming of age in the digital era, fully capable of handling television interviews, galvanizing support on social media and organizing trips to Tallahassee and Washington.
They aren’t from a rural area that soon will be forgotten by the national media. They aren’t spread out around the country like the music fans who attended the Las Vegas concert. They have grown up with mass school shootings, and if they stick to a clear message they can be the critical voice for change as they honor their fallen friends with their advocacy.
This feels different, because the teens are getting support at the opposite end of the spectrum of age and power. Al Hoffman Jr., an influential North Palm Beach Republican fundraiser for decades, wrote an e-mail to Gov. Rick Scott, former Gov. Jeb Bush and a handful of other Republican leaders declaring he will not write another check until a ban on assault weapons is approved.
Peter Rummell, another key Republican fundraiser from Jacksonville, agrees and Hoffman will encourage others to do the same. Republican lawmakers who won’t be swayed by emotion or facts understand money.
This feels different, because this time Florida Republicans cannot hide. The victims were teens and the adults who tried to protect them. It is an election year, and the governor is expected to run for U.S. Senate. The Florida Legislature is in session and already has put pro-gun bills on hold.
To their credit, Republican legislative leaders such as House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes, Sen. Wilton Simpson of Trilby and Sen. Bill Galvano of Bradenton walked through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and saw the aftermath of the shootings. That experience should help motivate them to do what needs to be done.
The path forward is clear. There is talk of spending $100 million on securing schools, hiring more school resource officers and improving mental health services. That isn’t enough. Raise the legal age for buying military-style rifles from 18 to 21 and add a three-day waiting period, the same requirements for buying handguns. Follow the lead of five other states and allow a judge to temporarily take someone’s guns if family members or police show that person is a threat to themselves or others. Close the so-called gun-show loophole on background checks for gun sales. Ban bump stocks, which make semiautomatic rifles mimic automatic weapons. Limit the size of magazines to 10 rounds, which is more than enough. And yes, ban military-style assault rifles like the AR-15, the weapon of choice at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and other mass shootings.
Floridians should join these high school students to make their voices heard, to declare that merely fortifying schools and adding more armed officers to prepare for the next attack is unacceptable. We’ll find out soon if this moment really is different.