Five years ago today in Parkland a former student walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a military-style assault weapon and a cluster of magazines. When he left seven minutes later, 17 victims were dead and 17 more lay injured. He had fired 139 rounds.
Like so many previous tragedies — including the slaughter of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando — that should have been the one to finally prompt Congress to reinstate an expired law keeping weapons from the civilian market. Yet they did not. As we remember the Parkland victims today, we should ask what lessons we’ve learned.
The record is mixed.
Parkland — and the extraordinary wave of youth-driven advocacy it provoked — was a watershed of sorts. Under the steely gaze of teenagers who’d watched and listened as their friends were gunned down, the Florida Legislature and Congress braved the gun lobby’s wrath long enough to reform red-flag laws that empower judges to have weapons seized from people who pose a clear danger to misuse them. Florida banned the sale of rifles to people under 21. Congress improved background checks for youthful buyers and forbade gun ownership by domestic violence offenders not married to their significant others, closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole.”
But even this modest progress is threatened by a radically reactionary U.S. Supreme Court that judges gun laws by a flawed standard. That triumph of false “originalism” over common sense barred New York’s sensible concealed weapons law. The Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals has now taken that “logic” an insane step further, holding that even a domestic abuser has a constitutional right to own guns. The court’s reason? Domestic abuse wasn’t a crime in the old days. (Women couldn’t vote then, either.)
Abusers, “while hardly model citizen(s), are nonetheless part of the political community entitled to the Second Amendment’s guarantees, all other things equal,” said the opinion, written by a judge President Donald Trump had appointed.
For the Supreme Court to uphold that would spell the end of gun control in the United States.
Florida is doing no better.
Egged on by the gun lobby and Attorney General Ashley Moody, the state Supreme Court barred from the ballot an assault weapon ban that some Parkland survivors advocated. At Gov. Ron DeSantis’ invitation, the Legislature is primed to allow people to carry concealed weapons without obtaining a permit that involves a background check and required safety training.
Although that bill — HB 543 — has nothing to do with assault weapons, it caters to the same cult of weaponry that sets this nation apart from other developed countries. Thus, lawmakers dishonor the memory of the 14 children and three staff members who died at Parkland.
It has already cleared one House subcommittee.
A similar Senate bill filed Thursday (SB 150) is better in that it applies lessons from Parkland. It requires the state to develop a behavioral threat management system that would help schools identify and treat potentially dangerous students. But that should stand on its own merits, rather than be coupled with permit-free concealed weapons.
Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Wilton Simpson is pushing legislation to prohibit businesses and credit card companies from keeping separate track of firearm and ammunition sales. It’s a gift to criminals as well as to the gun lobby.
Wiser people in Tallahassee are trying to deal with the assault weapons crisis by banning magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. That would be progress, but remember that the Parkland killer carried only 10-round magazines.
Get latest updates political news from Central Florida and across the state.
In Congress, Georgia Republican Andrew Clyde, a professional gun dealer, has been passing out AR-15 lapel pins to House colleagues. Among those seen wearing one: George Santos, the Long Island fabulist, and Anna Paulina Luna of St. Petersburg, the poster child for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ congressional gerrymander. Those pins are obscene.
The worst lesson that some politicians are taking from the Parkland tragedy is that Florida should have the nation’s most bloodthirsty death penalty law, despite zero evidence that it would deter any future mass murderer.
Florida’s present law, years late in the making, requires a unanimous jury vote to permit a judge to impose the death penalty. The 9-3 split that meant life without parole for the confessed Parkland killer gave DeSantis a pretext for legislation allowing juries to recommend death by a non-unanimous vote. That’s campaign fodder for his undeclared presidential campaign.
But the bills his legislators have filed (SB 450, HB 555) do more than that. They also would allow a judge to impose death even when the jury recommends life, even if that vote is unanimous. But when juries recommend life, it often indicates that they harbor doubts as to the defendant’s actual guilt.
The proposed Florida death law does not honor the Parkland victims. It would not protect anyone from mass violence. Instead, it uses the deaths of Parkland victims to elevate the risk of executing innocent people.
These are shameful responses to a tragedy that still haunts our collective memory. The victims of Parkland, of Pulse, of other mass shootings past and those inevitably yet to come, deserve so much more.
The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board includes Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson, Opinion Page editor Krys Fluker and Viewpoints Editor Jay Reddick. The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, and Anderson. Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.