Op-Ed

Florida can achieve bipartisan consensus on gun control | Opinion

A year after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, young woman holds a sign to protest lack of action on gun control.
A year after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, young woman holds a sign to protest lack of action on gun control. Getty Images

I, too, watched in shock as news unfolded of a mass shooting in El Paso — the 250th this year.

I, too, reacted in disgust as we learned that the shooter was a white supremacist whose racist manifesto propelled a 10-hour drive to murder Latino people.

I, too, awoke to the horror, as a new day dawned, to find nine dead in Dayton in the 251st mass shooting of 2019.

Shock. Horror. Thoughts. Prayers. Repeat.

Where do we go from here?

Few issues incite more bitter division than guns in America. In few debates are our partisan differences on fuller display than over our constitutional right — including those capable of mass murder in a matter of moments — to bear arms.

We are Democrats. We are Republicans. We are Floridians. We are Americans. And despite our differences, here is the truth: No one wants this kind of violence darkening their doorstep. No elected official wants this to happen in their community, to their constituents. Hardened NRA devotees and fervent anti-gun activists alike don’t want this bloodshed rocking their hometown.

Every time this happens, serious people on both sides of the aisle and the argument pledge to heed their better angels, take action and seek transformative change.

Repeat.

More than 100 years ago, Teddy Roosevelt reminded us that, “It is not the critic who counts. . . . The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.”

I not only intend to be a critic, but also a woman in the arena, because the stakes for our state, our republic and our lives could not be higher.

As Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, I’m committed to doing everything within my purview to make a difference.

When we inherited the state’s concealed weapons licensing program, it was plagued with problems and in desperate need of accountability. However, we’ve made it more efficient, while ensuring that every single person who applies to carry concealed-weapons gets the complete background check the law requires.

Where do we go from here?

I’ve called on the governor and Florida’s attorney general to drop the unnecessary appeal that prevents local communities from deciding for themselves what gun violence prevention measures best reflect their values.

I’ve been clear that people deserve to make their voice heard on assault-style weapons in our state Constitution, without their right to vote being infringed.

I’ve directed my staff to further review the concealed weapons licensing process and identify potential areas in which we can increase accountability, competency and public safety, while respecting statutory and constitutional rights.

But here’s another truth: This problem is bigger than any one person.

So are the solutions.

That’s why I applaud state Senate President Bill Galvano for taking a proactive approach to find real solutions to gun violence. I’m grateful Republican state lawmakers are willing to step into the arena alongside Democrats on this issue. I hope Congress and the president will do the same.

I believe in our right to self-defense — I’m a gun owner and concealed-weapons license holder.

I believe in our right to live free from gun violence. The collective fear that has become our new normal in malls, movie theaters, places of worship and public spaces is unacceptable.

Time is up for empty talk, for thoughts and prayers, for rhetoric and rancor, for the partisan divide in which nothing changes.

I intend to be a woman in the arena. I know there will be others with me. As Roosevelt also said, our faces will be marred by dust and sweat, we will spend ourselves in a worthy cause — and if we fail, we at least fail by daring greatly.

Where we go from here is toward the worthiest of causes — common-sense, bipartisan solutions that honor the lives lost by the inaction of the past.

Nicole “Nikki” Fried, a Democrat, is Florida’s 12th commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

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