The message from Americans to Congress was clear: Do something. Anything.
After the recent mass murder of elementary school children, teachers and grocery shoppers, the U.S. Senate did what’s expected of the people we elected to represent us. They compromised and passed bipartisan gun legislation that its lead Republican negotiator said “will not infringe on any law-abiding American’s Second Amendment rights.”
Where were Florida’s senators?
On the sidelines, grandstanding and digging in their heels because they didn’t get all they wanted. It’s not that the Senate needed the votes of Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to overcome a filibuster. There were 15 other Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had the courage to put their name on the legislation. But what a shame that lawmakers representing the Sunshine State — home of the Parkland and Pulse nightclub shootings — didn’t.
We’re sure their opposition will please the National Rifle Association and the Republican voting base that believes even the most sensible compromise will lead to a “slippery slope” and gun confiscations. We’re sure it will help Scott, as the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, fund-raise for Republicans to take back the Senate.
But both senators represent a diverse state of people looking for their elected officials to show leadership after 19 children were gunned down in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
This bipartisan gun-control compromise is an incremental, yet meaningful, step given Congress’ past inaction. Neither side got everything it wanted — as the word “compromise” indicates.
There’s no ban on so-called assault weapons and no increase of the age to buy a rifle, a measure Scott signed into law when he was Florida’s governor as part of a package that, arguably, goes farther than what came out of the Senate. In fact, the Senate legislation included a school-safety measure that Scott and Rubio themselves pitched earlier this year.
The U.S. House passed the bill, and President Biden said he will sign it. The legislation strengthens background checks for gun buyers ages 18 to 21 by allowing their juvenile records to be vetted. It provides incentives for states to pass “red-flag” laws, which allow a judge to order the temporary confiscation of guns from people deemed dangerous — Scott signed a red-flag law as governor. And it will tighten a federal ban on domestic abusers buying firearms and increase penalties against straw-gun purchases and trafficking.
Get latest updates political news from Central Florida and across the state.
Scott said in a statement released before the vote, the bill allows “the most radical policies, like California’s red-flag law, to be implemented and supported with federal funding.” He said comparisons between the post-Parkland law he signed in 2018 and the Senate bill were unfair.
“One was the product of a collaborative, well-defined and transparent process. The other was the result of secret backroom dealings that did not include input from the majority of Republican members, committee hearings, nor opportunities for amendments, giving members barely an hour to read the bill before we were asked to vote on it,” the statement read, in part.
Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, indeed, was a feat for which Scott deserves credit. But, make no mistake, Republicans controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office. Basically, they held all the cards. In a Congress notorious for gridlock, and a Senate where Democrats have a razor-thin majority, achieving an agreement before senators leave for a July recess seemed like pie in the sky at one point.
Rubio took credit in a statement for including a measure in the bill he, Scott and others co-sponsored that permanently authorizes the “Federal Clearinghouse on School Safety.” But he added he would vote against it because of “insufficient constitutional protections for law-abiding citizens.” He didn’t specify what that means.
“Unfortunately, after careful review, the constitutional protections in the package are inadequate,” the statement read. “In fact, they are significantly weaker than my bipartisan effort with Senators Scott, Reed, and King. I promised the people of Florida I would do everything I could to keep our schools and communities safe while protecting their constitutional rights. This bill fails that test.”
Their carefully crafted statements aside, Rubio and Scott will be on the record as voting against what’s arguably the most meaningful piece of gun legislation to come out of Congress in recent history.
This editorial reflects the opinion of the Miami Herald Editorial Board.