Editorial: Quiet vote for five-day waiting period sends loud message about ripples of Parkland

The waiting time for gun purchases in Hillsborough County will be five days under a measure adopted Wednesday in a 5-2 vote by the Hillsborough County Commission by a 5-2 vote. [LUIS SANTANA  |   Times (2016)]
The waiting time for gun purchases in Hillsborough County will be five days under a measure adopted Wednesday in a 5-2 vote by the Hillsborough County Commission by a 5-2 vote. [LUIS SANTANA | Times (2016)]
Published May 4 2018
Updated May 4 2018

Thanks to a County Commission vote that included support from three Republican members, Hillsborough soon will have a five-day waiting period for gun purchases.

This is the only option available to county governments in Florida seeking to get a handle on the spread of guns within their borders. And itís available only because itís spelled out in a constitutional amendment dating back to 1998, before the state Legislature set about in earnest to shrink the authority of local governments to regulate firearms.

That the Republican-controlled commission chose to take advantage of this provision speaks to the lasting impact of the Parkland high school shootings. This tragedy among all recent mass shootings is different for the ripples of change that continue to spread from it.

Democrat Les Miller, who introduced the proposal to add two days to the state-imposed waiting period of three days, invoked Parkland ó the massacre of 17 people Feb. 14 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. Miller also took inspiration from the experiences of his own son, shot and wounded at a fraternity party.

RELATED COVERAGECommission extends wait times for firearms purchases

He attracted support from the seven-member commissionís only other Democrat, Pat Kemp, as well as from three Republicans ó members of a party typically loathe to consider any move that suggests gun control.

Al Higginbotham, Victor Crist and Sandra Murman deserve credit for bucking this trend.

Their votes are in many ways as surprising as recent measures passed by the Republican-controlled, NRA-directed Florida Legislature to raise the minimum age for buying all guns to 21, spend more on mental health, and increase school security. These Parkland-inspired moves, unfortunately, were tarnished by foolish provisions to strengthen campus safety by arming school personnel.

Donít look for the County Commissionís Republican majority to take to the soapbox in justifying their vote on waiting periods, though, as politicians typically do when addressing a defining political issue of the day. The three Republican "yes" votes, in fact, joined the partyís two "no" votes ó Stacy White and Ken Hagan ó in their utter silence during 20 minutes of debate on Millerís proposal at Wednesdayís County Commission meeting.

Still, reluctant as they may have seemed, these three commissioners spoke with their votes.

The decision came after several gun store owners and gun rights advocates told the commission there is no evidence that "cooling-off" periods work. And indeed, the only impact tied to statistical evidence on the subject seems to indicate waiting periods might help reduce suicides but not murders.

But it is disingenuous for gun-rights advocates to cite any absence of statistical findings when they are the ones who erected a roadblock to serious research on gun violence. Under the Dickey amendment, adopted two decades ago and named for a former congressman and NRA ally, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention canít use money to "advocate or promote gun control," creating a chilling effect across all government and private research.

The ripples of Parkland may be reaching Washington, though, with moves now under way to finally change this.

Meantime, powerful reasons remain to establish more and longer waiting periods. In states that have instituted them, the periods range from 24 hours to 14 days, depending on the type of firearm.

The FBI has recommended additional time to complete background checks in order to reduce the number of people able to purchase firearms even though they might be prohibited from doing so. Today, gun buyers face delays of no more than three days for the checks, even though it can take up to 25 days for the agency to determine eligibility in such cases, the General Accountability Office has reported.

Whatís more, the Giffords Law Center for Gun Violence has cited research showing that states with waiting-period laws had 51 percent fewer firearm suicides and a 27 percent lower overall suicide rate than states without such laws. Whatever other harm they cause, guns take away second chances for people considering suicide, proving effective in 90 percent of attempts compared to rates of no more than 34 percent for other often-used means.

Higginbotham, speaking after his waiting-period vote to Christopher OíDonnell of the Tampa Bay Times, said an extra couple of days could enable some of these people to get the help they need.

The only one of the commissionís five Republicans who is leaving the board when his term is up this year, Higginbotham spoke to the arguments of gun-rights advocates and the dearth of statistical data in explaining his decision.

He voted his conscience, he said, adding, "Iím going to err on the side of safety and caution."

In this mid-term election year, thatís something people should demand of all those who seek their votes.