Editorial: Florida Legislature tone deaf on guns

SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
In a moment when voters in both political parties support banning the sale of assault rifles and large magazines, members of the Legislature refuse to act.
SCOTT KEELER | Times In a moment when voters in both political parties support banning the sale of assault rifles and large magazines, members of the Legislature refuse to act.
Published March 2 2018
Updated March 2 2018

The Florida Legislature, as one Democratic lawmaker observed this week, exists in a different world. In a time of tragedy, Republicans ignore pleas for meaningful gun control from survivors and relatives of victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. In a crisis, they abdicate leadership to high school students, business leaders and political fundraisers for their own party. In a moment when voters in both political parties support banning the sale of assault rifles and large magazines, they refuse to act. It is a shameful failure of what is supposed to be representative government, and it will be up to voters to lead Florida out of the darkness.

A week after House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron unveiled a sweeping but flawed package of modest gun controls and school protections, the National Rifle Association predictably has peeled away Republican votes. Democrats are understandably opposed to transforming schools into armed fortresses, so itís unclear what could pass before the legislative session ends Friday. The Senate delayed considering the package until a rare Saturday session, and the House will stall until midweek. As usual, the NRA has the upper hand in Tallahassee despite days of marches and rallies by Floridians begging for some legislative backbone.

A national sporting goods chain that makes money selling guns has a greater social conscience than the Florida Legislature. Dickís Sporting Goods responded this week to the Douglas High shootings that killed 17 by declaring it no longer will sell semiautomatic assault rifles like those used in Parkland and so many other mass shootings. Or sell high-capacity magazines. Or sell firearms to anyone under 21. Walmart, the nationís largest retailer, also said it would no longer sell any guns to anyone under 21. Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and other companies ended their discount programs for NRA members. Itís not surprising that Georgia legislators reacted by stripping out of legislation a jet fuel tax break sought by Delta, or that the Florida House quietly took similar action Friday. State lawmakers resumed bowing to the NRA this week before the funerals in Parkland were over.

The gun zealots, including Corcoran and other Tampa Bay Republicans, are tone deaf. They arenít listening to students and teachers. They arenít listening to the businesses they often shower with tax breaks. They arenít listening to prominent Republican fundraisers who vow not to raise more money unless they vote to ban the sale of assault rifles. They are ignoring Florida voters of both political parties who back bans on the sale of assault rifles and large magazines, and who oppose arming teachers.

At this point, the vote-counting in Tallahassee isnít even about assault rifles and magazines. Some Republican legislators are refusing to even support raising the age to buy all guns to 21 and requiring a three-day waiting period for all sales, modest provisions opposed by the NRA. Take those restrictions out, and the only gun control left in the legislation would be a ban on bump stocks that enable semiautomatic rifles to fire faster. The main components would be mental health reforms that donít go far enough, money to harden schools and hire more armed school resource officers, and a plan to train and arm teachers that would make schools more dangerous.

Floridians should never accept such a weak response to such a horrific tragedy. Neither should Gov. Rick Scott, who opposes arming teachers. The governorís proposal would not ban the sale of assault rifles and large magazines. But he includes raising the age to buy all guns to 21, and he offers a better approach to temporarily taking away guns from owners with mental health issues. If the Legislature caves to the NRA, abandons modest gun controls and insists on arming teachers, Scott should veto the legislation and demand better. Most Floridians, including the Douglas High families and the stateís teachers, would side with him.

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