At the culmination of a two-year political cycle marked by the most extreme partisan polarization of our lifetimes, it can be easy to forget that it wasn’t always like this. There was a time, in the not too distant past, when Republicans and Democrats set aside ideological divisions to work together toward solving the biggest threats facing our country and communities.
We rose as a nation to battle fascism after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. After John F. Kennedy was murdered, we passed the first federal gun-control legislation. The Watergate scandal led to historic reforms of campaign finance. Sept. 11 unified us in the war on terror. When the financial and housing markets collapsed a decade ago, George W. Bush and Nancy Pelosi ignored the loudest partisans in their parties to save our economy.
But consider the following: In June 2012, a dozen people were killed in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; in December 2012, 20 children and six adults were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut; 49 died at the club Pulse in Orlando, Florida in 2016; 58 people were shot to death in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2017; and this year, 17 lives, most of them teenagers, were taken in a high school massacre in Parkland on Feb. 14.
All of these innocent lives were ended by the barrels of military-style assault rifles, like the AR-15. Where is the bipartisan unity to end the killing? It’s nowhere to be found, especially, in the halls of Congress.
Our leaders are failing us by choosing politics over action. It is a false choice. We have decided to act decisively where lawmakers have been cowardly.
I, Gail Schwartz, am the aunt of Alex Schachter, murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, joining together with Al Hoffman, the primary developer of Parkland to do what elected leaders have failed to: Ban the type of military-style assault weapons that have been used repeatedly to commit these heinous acts of violence.
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Our organizations — Ban Assault Weapons NOW (BAWN) and Americans for Gun Safety Now (AFGSN) — have formed the nation’s the first truly bipartisan coalition to ban assault rifles. BAWN’s sole goal is to place this amendment before voters in Florida’s 2020 general election.
Since 2012, virtually every mass shooting in America has been committed with one of these weapons, yet purchasing one in Florida remains as simple as a trip to the grocery store.
We will not be defined or deterred by allegiance to a political party. We, first and foremost, are caring and responsible members of society. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness are unattainable if our schools and communities can so easily, and suddenly, be transformed into battlefields where the innocent become unwilling prey.
This is personal. On Valentine’s Day, we became unlikely participants in America’s gun debate. We both have deep ties to Parkland. We never imagined this nightmare could happen so close to home.
But, this topic should be personal to all of us. Another mass shooting is just another day away if we continue to do nothing. Military-style tactical rifles are designed and manufactured to be efficiently lethal.
Banning assault weapons does not deprive any American of the right to bear arms. Seven states and the District of Columbia currently have such laws in place, and their residents are still able to legally purchase other types of firearms. Together, we can ensure Florida becomes the eighth state to ban these weapons.
This isn’t about taking away anyone’s rights. It’s not about being Republicans or Democrats. It’s not even really about the guns themselves. It’s about saving lives.
Over the next 15 months, BAWN will gather 766,200 petition signatures from registered voters and place a constitutional amendment banning assault weapons on Florida’s 2020 general election ballot. Legislative action is not needed to place this into law — only the determination and commitment of Floridians.
The stakes could not be higher. The murder of innocent Floridians will happen again.
We have been living in a constant state of fear, waiting for the next mass shooting.
We are done waiting.
Alfred Hoffman, Jr. served as U.S. ambassador to Portugal from 2005-2007. Gail Schwartz is the aunt of Parkland shooting victim, Alex Schachter and chair of Ban Assault Weapons NOW! Visit BAWNFL.org to learn more about what you can do to ban assault weapons in Florida.