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  1. Florida Politics

Group uses film to push against state's proposed gun legislation

Published Feb. 20, 2017

The day after a quiet 2012 Thanksgiving spent with family in Chicago, Lucy McBath answered a phone call from her ex-husband, Ron Davis. Their son, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, had been shot.

"I just started screaming, 'What's wrong with Jordan?'" she recalled tearfully.

This scene from Armor of Light, a new documentary being screened Wednesday (Feb. 22) at the University of South Florida, introduces McBath, who wanted to be a civil rights lobbyist but ended up working as a flight attendant.

She believes her return to activism following Jordan's death is her true calling.

"At the end of the day, when your time comes, would you not want to stand before God and know you did everything you possibly could to make a difference?" McBath told the Tampa Bay Times.

The film also follows evangelical minister Rob Schenck, an anti-abortion activist, as he risks his career to face the reality of gun violence and ask, "When is a Christian permitted to use a weapon in a legal fashion to take a life?"

The two were drawn together by the Sept. 16, 2013, mass shooting in which gunman Aaron Alexis killed 12 people and injured three others inside the Washington Navy Yard. It happened to be right around the corner from Schenck's office.

At the time, McBath was in Washington, too, planning to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on gun violence. Due to the shooting, she met with Schenck instead.

Both call it a case of divine intervention.

Together, this unlikely pair became the subjects of director Abigail Disney's investigation into whether it is possible to be both pro-gun and pro-life.

On the day of his death, Jordan Davis, who was black, had been sitting in his car with four friends at a Jacksonville gas station, listening to loud music. None of them had weapons.

Michael Dunn decided the boys were a threat to his personal safety, and shot into the vehicle enough times to kill the teenager and leave behind nine bullet holes.

Although a jury eventually convicted Dunn of first-degree murder, his first trial ended with a hung jury because it couldn't come to terms with Dunn's use of Florida's "stand your ground" law in his defense.

The law allows individuals to use deadly force in self-defense with no obligation to retreat or flee.

A new bill now before the Florida Legislature would expand the law's protection by transferring the burden of proof to the state, forcing it to prove its case against a shooter twice — once for a judge, then for a jury.

Other bills before the Legislature would allow guns on Florida college campuses and in airports and allow for open carry of firearms.

McBath is touring the country with the film as the national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

"I take a look at the life of Jesus, of the Apostles," she said. "They didn't give up because it was hard, or because they were tired, hungry or poor. I'm none of those things, so what excuse do I have for not continuing to fight?"

McBath, whose father was president of the Illinois NAACP, marched with civil rights leaders as a child.

She said she is not trying to take guns from law-abiding citizens, and that most National Rifle Association members she's spoken with agree that "common sense measures" should be put in place to prevent dangerous people from getting guns.

In the film, Schenck and McBath urge pro-gun Christians to follow God over the law.

"When we see Jesus, is he carrying a nine-millimeter?" Schenck told the Times. "If not, then it should give Christians reason to re-think this whole thing."

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, the Tampa Democrat, will offer welcoming remarks at the Tampa screening Wednesday. The day before, local Moms Demand Action members will lobby legislators in Tallahassee.

"We hope that people feel empowered to become involved with moms and help end gun violence," said state chapter leader Michelle Gajda. "American injustices have always required a broad band of sympathizers to come together to say, 'This must be fixed.'"

McBath has done her best to channel her grief into positive action, cautioning fellow Christians against being "spiritual hypocrites" when it comes to gun rights.

"I really believe that people are innately good," she said. "They really care what direction our nation is going in. They just need to know how to go about being part of the change."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story described the Jacksonville shooting incorrectly.

Contact Libby Baldwin at lbaldwin@tampabay,com. Follow her at @LibBaldwin

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