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Florida’s response to El Paso, Dayton shootings: More of the same

Republicans offer their sadness, prayers and solutions to issues like mental health illness. New gun regulations, however, remain off the table.
Residents comfort each other as they await word on whether they know any of the victims of a mass shooting on Sunday in Dayton, Ohio. [Julie Carr Smyth | AP]
Residents comfort each other as they await word on whether they know any of the victims of a mass shooting on Sunday in Dayton, Ohio. [Julie Carr Smyth | AP]
Published Aug. 4, 2019
Updated Aug. 5, 2019

Two days, two cities, two mass shootings, 29 dead.

This time, Florida watches from afar.

Republican Sen. Rick Scott, though the last among prominent Florida Republicans to address the shootings publicly, produced the most noteworthy of a statement on Twitter, saying “White nationalism is a cancer on our country,” and that, “We all stand united against this evil.”

It was the first time Scott used the phrase ‘white nationalism’ to describe domestic terrorism. Still, criticism of Scott’s comment were immediate, with multiple users asking the senator if actions would follow his words.

For other Republicans, who control the state, new gun restrictions were not proposed as a solution to prevent future shootings.

Instead, Republicans reacted to the tragedies as if they were uncontrollable acts, something to endure, to bear. But to understand? To stop? It’s beyond explanation, so all we can do is grieve. Here’s a version of that from U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, rated A+ by the National Rifle Association and an opponent of background checks and an assault rifle ban.

Then there’s the type of response from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who doesn’t even mention the role that guns played in both shootings. Instead, Moody urges some Minority Report-type solution to mental health issues.

Just the week before, Moody opposed placing a measure on the 2020 ballot that would ban assault rifles in Florida and she announced her support for penalties for local governments who approve gun regulations. The NRA and Florida Carry, which makes the NRA look moderate, are big fans of Moody.

RELATED STORY: For gun rights groups, Florida new attorney general is no Pam Bondi. And that’s a good thing.

Moody wasn’t alone among Republicans who direct attention away from the centrality of guns in all mass shootings.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio made his first statement about the shootings at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, also making no mention of the guns used in the slaying.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, like in the past, said the shootings were ‘tragic’ and ‘senseless’ in a series of tweets Sunday afternoon. What he, too, failed to mention was how the killings were carried out — with a gun.

“As our nation mourns the tragic and senseless loss of life in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, we reaffirm that these acts of violence are not representative of who we are as a nation,” DeSantis tweeted.

While the governor makes a case that mass shootings are not representative of who we are as a nation, recent events say otherwise — such as the 29 innocent lives that were taken from the bullet of a gun within the past 24 hours in Dayton and El Paso. And the hundreds of lives that have been senselessly cut short in other mass shootings that are nearly uniquely American.

As the New York Times points out here, the thing that makes the U.S. the world leader in mass shootings is....access to guns.

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

Adjusted for population, only Yemen has a higher rate of mass shootings among countries with more than 10 million people — a distinction Mr. Lankford urged to avoid outliers. Yemen has the world’s second-highest rate of gun ownership after the United States.

Worldwide, Mr. Lankford found, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when he excluded the United States, indicating that it could not be explained by some other factor particular to his home country. And it held when he controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence.

And yet, there Republicans were on Sunday, citing discredited libertarian think-tanks to insist that there is no correlation between gun ownership and mass shootings.

Some tweeted the oft-used “thoughts and prayers" response.

Florida’s GOP offers a combo response, mixing the beyond comprehension sentiment favored by Gaetz with the the “prayers” approach from Patronis.

It doesn’t seem to matter to Republican politicians that praying doesn’t seem to have an effect on shootings. They keep happening.

Take this tweet from Rick Scott back when he was Florida’s governor in 2017:

This was in response to the Sutherland Springs, Texas shooting, where more than two dozen were killed.

Three months later, thoughts and prayers couldn’t stop Parkland, when 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were killed, surpassing Columbine as the deadliest shooting at a high school in U.S. history.

Scott did sign a bill that imposed new regulations on guns after Parkland, and took some heat for it from the NRA. Scott wasn’t alone. In fact, he wasn’t even the only Republican politician to impose new restrictions. According to the New York Times, state legislatures passed 69 gun control measures in 2018 after Parkland, more than three times the number they passed in 2017. Republican chambers passed 18 gun control laws.

But Florida’s new law was also criticized as piecemeal. Upping the age to buy firearms from 18 to 21 and approving a three-day waiting period on all firearm purchases and approving a ban on bump stocks is not nothing. Still, closing the gun show loophole on background checks wasn’t seriously considered, nor was a ban on assault rifles.

Meanwhile, the mass shootings continue.

⋅ May 18, 2018: Dimitrios Pagourtzis began shooting during an art class at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. The 17-year-old killed eight students and two teachers and 13 others were wounded. Explosive were found at the school and off campus.

⋅ June 28, 2018: Jarrod Ramos shot through the windows of the Capital Gazette offices in Annapolis, Maryland, before turning the weapon on employees there, killing five at The Capital newspaper. Authorities say Ramos had sent threatening letters to the newspaper prior to the attack.

⋅ Oct. 27, 2018: Robert Bowers is accused of opening fire at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during Shabbat morning services, killing 11 and injuring others. It’s the deadliest attack on Jews in the U.S. in history.

⋅ Nov. 7, 2018: Ian David Long killed 12 people at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, California, before taking his own life. Long was a Marine combat veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

⋅ Feb. 15, 2019: Gary Martin killed five co-workers at a manufacturing plant in Aurora, Illinois, during a disciplinary meeting where he was fired. He wounded one other employee and five of the first police officers to arrive at the suburban Chicago plant before he was killed during a shootout police.

⋅ May 31, 2019: Longtime city worker DeWayne Craddock opened fire in a building that houses Virginia Beach government offices. He killed 12 people and wounded several others before he was gunned down by police.

Democrats have little power to control the conversation in Florida because they don’t control the government. But they do see a role for government in addressing the shootings, and that’s through gun control measures.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried oversees the state’s concealed weapons program.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman took direct aim at Moody’s approach to the gun issue.

Democrats recognize that until they gain more power, they can’t do much. For now, all they can do is watch as their colleagues across the aisle change the subject.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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