New Florida gun law better, not enough

By Dorothy Inman-Johnson
Special to the Outlook

Florida’s gun bill passed by the Legislature on March 7 and signed into law by Governor Rick Scott on March 9, was titled the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. If not for the very effective #neveragain campaign launched by the Parkland Florida students, and parents within days of the massacre at Douglas High, it is doubtful that the Florida Legislature, under the spell of the NRA for over 20 years, would have done anything to address this tragedy. During those 20 years, the Legislature has done the NRA’s bidding by expanding individual gun rights far beyond anything in the intent of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. Could it be that the NRA and Florida Legislature has finally met its match in this new generation of informed, activist high school students who will soon be voting age?

And, yes, the passage of any law by the legislature restricting instead of expanding access to guns is a victory; but only a start. Here are the specific provisions in the law passed last week that left the NRA fuming and threatening to sue the state of Florida.
The law created up to a three  day waiting period for the completion of background checks for gun purchases except for police, members of the military, licensed hunters, and licensed concealed carriers. Hunters and concealed carriers, who make up most gun owners under Florida’s permissive gun laws for two decades, should not have been exempted from this provision. How would persons in these categories be detected if they suddenly go rogue, stock pile weapons, and decide to go on a shooting spree?

It banned bump stocks that transform rifles into guns capable of firing as fast as automatic machine guns. The NRA, though it claimed to support a ban on bump stocks after the Las Vegas massacre, wanted it done through voluntary federal staff policy, not by law.

It raised the minimum age for all gun purchases from 18 to 21 years of age. However, the gun show loophole still exists.

It allows school superintendents and sheriffs to train and arm certain school personnel, but not full-time teachers. Specifically, the law creates a voluntary “marshal” program and provides $67 million to train and arm school counselors, coaches, and librarians as added security for the school. This is a measure supported by the NRA because it boosts gun sales, but not by most Americans.

The law approves millions of dollars for more school-based police officers and for making school facilities more secure. Can these funds be used for electronic surveillance systems and metal detectors at schools that protect our children as well as law makers are protected at the Capitol and governmental buildings?
And, finally, it expands mental health services at schools. Hopefully, this will include school funding for more counselors, school social workers, and school psychological services that were all but eliminated over the last two decades during the state’s laser focus on testing for success. It, also, allows police to temporarily confiscate guns from anyone involuntarily placed in psychiatric care under Florida’s Baker Act; and bans gun sales to Floridians committed to mental institutions or determined to be mentally incompetent by a judge.

However, the law does very little about guns. Gun control measures with the highest approval ratings among Americans is a ban on assault, military style gun purchases, a ban on AR-15 sales, universal comprehensive background checks, and a ban on civilian purchase of high capacity magazines. The law does not address any of these measures. Comprehensive background checks would greatly improve federal, state, and local law enforcement’s data on gun registrations and ability to flag dangerous or suspicious gun purchases. And though the NRA is fond of saying, “Guns don’t kill, people do”, without their ever growing demand for civilian rights to purchase military style weapons and high capacity magazines, people would not have the ability to carry out massacres like Newtown, Las Vegas, the Pulse Night Club, the Colorado movie theater, and Parkland. Guns alone are not the culprit. However, the NRA and most lawmakers greedy for NRA campaign dollars have spent decades making firearms capable of causing the greatest harm available to very dangerous people.

The Parkland students, parents, and community have made this time different. They have started a national movement that makes lawmakers in Florida and all over the country realize that this new generation of voters can be just as dangerous for their chances at reelection as the loss of NRA blood money. They must be reminded that the job is not done yet, in November 2018, if nothing is done to address military style weapons, ammo, and comprehensive background checks. All Americans deserve to feel as safe as our elected officials in secure buildings while choosing not to act to protect the rest of us.

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