Another holiday season dawns, a time of cheer for many of us, as the pandemic that took so many lives has eased and reopened the door to our daily routines.
But for many there’s little cheer this winter. The fever of gunfire, which eased as COVID cleared the streets in 2020, is back upon us, a routine of another kind. November brought mass murders at a bar in Colorado, a college student residence in Idaho and a Walmart Supercenter in Virginia. Instead of the season ushering in holiday cheer, many of us can only mourn.
Our gun culture is killing more and more of us.
By now the arguments have been laid out and so often laid to rest like bodies in coffins. Some argue for constitutional rights, some counter for common sense. What can’t be denied is that while we fail to reach consensus, sadness piles up, as we lose neighbors, school children, friends and family members.
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Across the country, many don’t just oppose gun restrictions but insist on in-your-face gun proliferation. They push for open-carry laws, ostensibly to create a citizen anti-crime presence but in equal measure to push back against those who would deny them their right to weapons. The New York Times this week reported on the increasing incidence, at peaceful political protests, of counter-protesters toting AK-47s and other weapons of war. They’re just asking for trouble.
The Everytown for Gun Safety website ranks Florida 19th nationwide in the strength of its gun laws, with an estimated 2,849 people dying by guns in an average year.
According to The Everytown for Gun Safety website: Florida legislators are actively working to weaken Florida’s gun laws
Father of Parkland school shooting victim reacts to jury verdict
Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina among 17 people killed by Nikolas Cruz in 2018, speaks after jurors recommended Cruz be sentenced to life in prison.
Valentina Palm, Palm Beach Post
After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in 2018, the Florida Legislature stepped up to some extent, passing a law that allows police to remove guns from people who pose a danger. The state also tightened the purchase process, including raising the minimum age to buy guns to 21.
But the site notes that since then, “progress has stalled and Florida legislators are instead actively working to weaken Florida’s gun laws.”
For starters, the state does not require background checks for handgun purchases at point of sale; it does not prohibit assault-style weapons; it does not bar purchase of high-capacity gun magazines; it does not require new handgun models to have childproofing; and it does not bar people deemed a danger from carrying a concealed weapon.
So, there’s work to be done on that score, not to mention on school safety and the perpetual need to ease access to mental health care.
That the Florida Legislature’s Republican numbers grew in November’s election puts even more responsibility in the majority’s hands, to shape solutions to this undeniable crisis. Many, if not most, of our GOP lawmakers express longstanding loyalty to the National Rifle Association and opposition to gun restrictions. We can only hope that the ongoing plague of mass shootings will at some point persuade them that what action they have taken has fallen short. How much spilled blood will that take?
The good news is that, despite stalled progress at the state level, Congress this year passed significant legislation to address the problem. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, enacted in June, enhances background checks; supports state crisis intervention and ‘Red Flag’ laws; bans anyone convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun; provides funding for school safety measures; and provides $11 billion for mental health programs.
The bill passed 234-193 in the House and 64-34 in the Senate, with Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott opposing.
“We’ve surpassed 600 mass shootings this year, including two deadly attacks just last week at a Walmart in Virginia and a LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado,” U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel told us. “We cannot go numb to these tragedies. While we’ve made good progress…to enhance background checks, implement crisis intervention orders, and close some loopholes, there’s so much work left to do to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution but an immediate fix we must do now is banning these (assault) weapons from our streets.”
Now the Florida Legislature needs to do its part. Step one is to acknowledge the problem and not just wait for another Pulse or Parkland. Because, if November’s shootings made one thing clear, it’s that this fever hasn’t broken.