Pro-gun Florida Republicans ignore Parkland’s lessons

Concealed Carry

Many valuable lessons in life are learned in the hardest way possible.

On Feb. 14, 2018, Republicans in Florida learned what almost two decades of loosened laws around responsible gun ownership truly meant for the state when my daughter was one of 17 people murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a 19-year-old man with an AR-15 assault rifle.

Jaime was 14 and the light of my life. We were still mapping out her life, traveling to dance competitions and reveling in the joy that only comes from knowing that your whole life is still ahead of you.

When she was murdered that day by a former student with an AR-15 who was able to get on campus, I vowed to do all I could to make sure that no other parent ever again had to feel the anguish my family felt. Working with other powerful advocates for our children, we were able to convince Republicans in Tallahassee to put politics aside and pass much-needed common-sense gun safety reforms that have helped save lives in the years since.

The political message from that day for Republicans should have been that this was not only morally correct, but also politically the right thing to do. None of them lost their jobs. In fact, not only have they all been reelected, some have been elected to even higher office.


Unfortunately, it now appears Republicans, led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, have forgotten the lessons of Parkland. This isn’t surprising from the governor, who said while campaigning in 2018 that he would not have signed the reform package passed in the wake of the massacre. But it’s an incredibly disappointing turn of events from many of the same legislators who looked the Parkland families in the eye and vowed then to help save the lives of children.

There’s no more dangerous proposal for public safety than the permitless carry bills (HB 543 and SB 150) being fast-tracked through the Legislature with too little debate. Backed by the National Rifle Association and a range of groups in the gun lobby, this proposal would remove the requirement that people seeking to carry a concealed firearm in public go through a background check, obtain a license, and undergo training before leaving the house with their gun.

No one can tell you with a straight face that allowing people to walk the streets of our neighborhoods, the aisles of our grocery stores or the rows of our movie theaters with a gun they have no idea how to handle will make us safer. In fact, from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, 7,605 concealed carry permits were denied in Florida to people who failed background checks. That’s 7,605 people who can walk the streets with a gun under this new legislation.

Florida has a gun violence epidemic. In 2017, the Tampa Bay Times found that a child in Florida is shot every 17 hours. Think about that. Even before the tragedy at my daughter’s school, every 17 hours, a parent or loved one was confronted with the news that their son or daughter had a bullet hole in them.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am.

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I want to commend the legislators who have been on the front lines fighting this outrageous proposal, but with Republican supermajorities in both chambers, they are fighting an uphill battle. Truth is, Republicans care more about aligning with a governor solely focused on running for President and only concerned with the realities of Republican base politics than the safety of our children.

That’s why it is vital that we all use our voices to contact legislators and tell them to put a stop to this reprehensible proposal. More than that, the Democrats, while not able to control the agenda, should do far more to communicate with Florida voters about what is happening. For example, do Florida voters know that this legislation will weaken the penalty for anyone caught on a school campus with a gun from a felony to a misdemeanor? This will make school campuses less safe all by itself. I am angry at Democrats as well for not finding other ways to draw attention to this and to ensure that those who vote to make us less safe will pay a political price for doing so.

Permitless carry will cost lives in our state. I know this and I have a strong suspicion the politicians pushing it know it as well, which is why they are silencing public debate. They truly do not care. They are willing to dishonor the memory of my daughter and the countless Floridians we have lost to gun violence while they do the bidding of far-right extremists who would turn our streets into war zones.

Senseless acts of gun violence have taken far too many of our loved ones, but in each of those lives was a lesson.

Republicans in Florida are proving that they refuse to learn them. It is now a certainty that because of the Republican supermajorities and Gov. DeSantis’ presidential ambitions, gun violence in Florida will increase. That reality is predictable and foreseeable. Sadly, it was also preventable.

Fred Guttenberg of Parkland is author of “Find the Helpers: What 9/11 and Parkland Taught Me About Recovery, Purpose, and Hope.”

(Editor’s Note: The Florida House will debate the permitless concealed carry bill on Thursday, March 23. It can be viewed live on the Florida Channel).

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