1. Opinion

Joe Henderson: School custodians doubling as soldiers? Our Founding Fathers are reeling.

Marion Hammer, the Florida lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, has a lot of clout with Florida lawmakers.
Marion Hammer, the Florida lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, has a lot of clout with Florida lawmakers.
Published Jul. 18, 2018

If you just dropped in from another planet and needed to learn about Florida's insidious gun problem, all you had to do was check out the front of Wednesday's local section of the Tampa Bay Times.

In the center was a story about a school safety drill at Strawberry Crest High School, complete with a SWAT team, a circling police helicopter and police dogs. It was designed to simulate the best way to respond to an attack at school.

Unfortunately, those drills are a necessity these days, as the slaughter of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine's Day proved.

Next to that story was one about a request from the Florida League of Women Voters to Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate how the state Department of Agriculture handled – it sounds like mishandled – concealed carry gun permits.

If that wasn't good enough, on the left side of the page was a fine Sue Carlton column about the lawsuit filed by National Rifle Association grand dame Marion Hammer.

Hammer is distressed over what she says is harassment, threats and cyber-stalking by people who apparently believe her "we get everything, you get nothing" Second Amendment argument is a big reason why it is ridiculously easy for deranged people to shoot up schools.

No one should be stalked or harassed. But Hammer is the face of guns in this state, and when she speaks, Republican lawmakers lock n' load.

Hence, the need for drills like the one at Strawberry Crest.

There was a quote in reporter Tim Fanning's story about the exercise that tells you everything about today's culture and the proliferation of high-powered weapons. It came from Carlos Gonzalez, head custodian at the school.

After saying he has memorized the locations of security cameras and emergency exits there, Gonzalez added, "We're like soldiers on the front lines of school safety…."

My goodness.

Did the Founding Fathers really have in mind custodians doubling as soldiers and SWAT teams at public schools when they decided the need for a well-regulated militia should not be restricted?

I doubt it.

But OK, we've got the Second Amendment and that's that.

It's not going anywhere.

So we focus on the debacle with background checks.

Employees in Putnam's office didn't follow proper procedure in reviewing applications for licenses, including concealed carry permits. That led to 291 permits having to be revoked, and a huge desire by Putnam's campaign for this to go away.

But it shouldn't go away. It can't go away, especially after the news that Putnam's office settled a whistleblower incident with an employee.

She claimed she was forced out after asking about "gross misconduct" at how the applications were being handled. She claimed she was told she "worked for the NRA."

Putnam's office denied that.

Here's what they can't deny, though.

They can't deny Putnam declared last year that he is a "proud NRA sellout."

They can't deny that Marion Hammer carries outsized influence over lawmakers in Tallahassee. Even when some of them, including Gov. Rick Scott, grew a spine and passed a better-than-nothing gun restriction after the Stoneman Douglas massacre, Hammer attacked it as a betrayal of gun rights.

So let's review.

There is a grandmother in Tallahassee who apparently believes the Second Amendment was chiseled onto the same stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. A rebuke from her can make Republican state lawmakers weep.

So that creates an atmosphere where the agency that is supposed to be the firewall between us and bad guys with guns botches the assignment, and now we have to sue to find out how bad it is.

All the while, SWAT teams and front-line custodians plan for something they pray will never be needed.

This is who we are.

It's all right there, in black and white. You can look it up.