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In rally outside Florida Capitol, gun owners remind lawmakers they, too, can “vote them out”

One attendee said that unlike the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, "we are over 18. We vote."
Several dozen NRA members gathered from across the state to tell their state lawmakers to oppose any types of restrictions on gun access. Emily L. Mahoney | TIMES
Several dozen NRA members gathered from across the state to tell their state lawmakers to oppose any types of restrictions on gun access. Emily L. Mahoney | TIMES
Published Mar. 4, 2018
Updated Mar. 5, 2018

Holding an oversized American flag and sometimes shouting into a megaphone, gun owners at a Sunday rally in Tallahassee borrowed a key motto from the Parkland students' gun control movement and warned that they also have the power to "vote them out."

"Them" being the state lawmakers that vote to restrict gun access, as the Legislature is currently on track to do for the first time in more than a decade.

"That's why we're here today: to stop the incrementalism, to stop them from taking one piece at a time until there's nothing left (of the Second Amendment)," said Joshua McCulley, 36, from Vero Beach into the megaphone. There was no clear leader of the group, just groupings of people who had heard about the event through social media.

At the peak of the rally, there were about 250 people.

Marion Hammer, the NRA's Florida lobbyist, made clear this was not an official NRA-sanctioned rally.

"We had nothing to do with it and don't even know who they were," she said.

This rally, in its message, was the polar opposite to the one led by Parkland students in Tallahassee shortly after 17 people were killed on Valentines Day, which was attended by thousands and largely demanded a ban on the sale of assault weapons like the AR-15.

But there was one common thread: anger.

Parkland students have been enraged that an 19-year-old who many people knew was troubled could buy a powerful weapon without difficulty. But now NRA members are angry, too, at gun restrictions the Parkland students and Democrats have called an ineffective bare minimum.

"That (Broward County) sheriff, Scott Israel, stood on a stage and led an angry mob blaming … me, you, the NRA, every law-abiding citizen in this country, blaming us for what happened while his deputy sat outside playing Angry Birds," McCulley continued.

Josh Johnson, a 34-year-old graphic designed from St. Augustine, spoke into the megaphone and called out his state lawmaker by name: "I am your constituent, Travis Hutson. Do not vote for SB 7026."

That bill is the Legislature's package bill to address the Parkland shooting. It proposes to raise the purchasing age for all firearms from 18 to 21, would allow law enforcement to restrict gun access to the mentally ill, beef up school security and counseling programs and create an optional program to arm teachers.

"What you're really avoiding saying is, 'You're an 18 to 21 year old, you can't handle these things,'" Johnson said. "Why can you handle voting, or going into the military, but not this?"

He suggested that the Legislature should instead not require schools to be "gun-free zones" which makes them easy targets.

Mohamed Helmi, 50, a doctor who came from Pensacola to rally, said politicians are "overwhelmed" by the gun control movement started by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students following the mass shooting there.

"But we have to apply pressure on them to straighten them out and tell them this is not how you handle the Constitution," he said. "If anything, we are over 18. We vote. We put our money where our mouth is — we really do."