Hours after then-Gov. Rick Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act in March 2018, the National Rifle Association had already filed a lawsuit.
The law is considered by many state leaders to be a bipartisan landmark victory, a 105-page bill written and passed with lightning efficiency after the Parkland shooting took 17 lives and forced the Legislature to act. Among other measures, it raised the gun purchasing age from 18 to 21.
But last week, it was revealed that the legal challenge against the law is connected to one of the Legislature’s own. After a great deal of legal of back-and-forth, the NRA relinquished their position that the plaintiffs’ identities remain anonymous and revealed one of the “John Does," a gun owner between the ages of 18 and 21 who said his Second Amendment rights were violated.
His name is Radford Fant, and he’s the son of a former state lawmaker, Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, the News Service of Florida confirmed. Fant, a staunch gun rights backer who unsuccessfully ran for attorney general in 2018, voted against the bill.
At the time, he said he couldn’t imagine after the “heinous crime” of Parkland, “then we tell a 20-year-old mother living alone that she can’t purchase a firearm to defend herself.”
Neither Jay Fant nor Radford’s lawyers, nor the NRA’s Florida lobbyist, Marion Hammer, responded to requests for comment, so it’s unclear whether the former lawmaker was involved in his son’s selection as a plaintiff.
In addition to the age restriction, the law also included the requirement that all public schools have armed protection, allowed certain school staff to carry guns and created Florida’s “red flag” law to temporarily remove firearms from people’s possession.
In legal filings, the NRA had said they needed to keep the plaintiffs anonymous because "public exposure and association with this lawsuit could subject them to harassment, intimidation, and potentially even physical violence.”
Still, the move could be viewed by some top lawmakers as a betrayal, said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa. Lee voted against the bill in 2018 but said he still views its passage as a “Herculean” accomplishment by the Legislature.
“After what we went through ... to get this piece of legislation passed, I’m sure there are people who are resentful that it’s being challenged and that one of our own former colleagues is involved,” Lee said. “I saw every management tool that leadership had in the Senate used to get that bill passed. It was the carrots (and) the sticks.”
Yet the top Legislative leadership was mum on the news that Fant’s son is the plaintiff.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, both architects of the bill, declined to comment, as did Richard Corcoran, who was speaker in 2018 and is now the commissioner of education.
Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, who is next in line for speaker, also declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Ashley Moody, whose office is a defendant in the lawsuit, said it would be inappropriate to make a statement on an ongoing case.
The only high-ranking lawmaker contacted by the Times/Herald who agreed to speak was Sen. Wilton Simpson, who’s designated to be the next president of the Senate, and who worked behind-the-scenes to get the 2018 law passed.
He said that Fant’s son’s involvement doesn’t make him think that the lawsuit is politically motivated. In fact, it’s important to listen to the young plaintiff just as state leaders listened to the other young voices of the Parkland students who overtook the Florida Capitol in the days after the shooting to demand gun control, Simpson said.
“Their consideration should be just as considered as the kids (who were) emotional the other way, who think we didn’t do enough,” he said. “I say that is part of the process and God bless our freedom to challenge laws we don’t like.”
But State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the law’s allowing school staff to be armed, contended that some in leadership may be silent because they don’t want to offend the NRA.
“Anyone who believes what was done in the Legislature was against their rights, there’s blood on their hands," he said. “That goes for NRA, Rep. Fant, the John Does. The blood is on your hands if you can’t respect the wishes and the will of the Parkland families or the families in black communities who are constantly losing children to gun violence."