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No New Gun Laws on the Horizon Two Years After Parkland Shooting

 In this Feb. 21, 2018, file photo, the Florida Senate chamber is darkened while a slideshow shows each person killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.
Mark Wallheiser
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Parkland father Fred Guttenberg was removed from President Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday after the president proclaimed that he would protect Second Amendment rights, and Guttenberg retorted in frustration: “What about the victims of gun violence, like my daughter?”

Next week is the second anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. There been little movement on any gun legislation in Washington, but the Parkland tragedy has led to some changes in Florida, including banning sales to anyone under the age of 21 years old, and more may be on the way.

Gun bills are currently moving through the Legislature. Some expand gun rights, but others look to new restrictions.  On the Florida Roundup, hosts Tom Hudson and Melissa Ross talked about proposed gun legislation with Antonio Fins, political editor with the Palm Beach Post, and Politico reporter Gary Fineout.

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

The Florida Roundup: Antonio, let's start with you. Fred Guttenberg has become one of the most prominent parents associated with the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. How does his outburst at the State of the Union affect public opinion, do you think, if at all, when it comes to this issue of gun reform? 

ANTONIO FINS: Right now, it's hard to tell. I mean, the fact of the matter is, we've had in Florida since that terrible Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, you've had all kinds of different proposals that have come up. Some have been approved back in 2018. Others have stalled since. And the outburst itself. Look, I feel for him. What parent would not? So, I don't know that anybody's going to look at that and say, ‘that's a real discredit to the to the gun safety movement.’ Absolutely not. 

But I think the question is a more serious issue is, for example, in the state Senate where Senate President Bill Galvano is trying to expand background checks to flea market sales of guns, and also to gun shows that infamous loophole that we've been hearing about. And he's taking incredible flak from conservative Republicans. 

Now, Bill Galvano himself is a conservative Republican. He gets a 100 percent rating from Americans for Prosperity and from the Conservative Union. And yet he is getting pilloried over this. I think that's really the more significant turnout, not so much as the outburst by Fred Guttenberg at the State of the Union on Tuesday night. 

The Florida Roundup: Gary Fineout. Let's bring you into the conversation. As Antonio said, there is legislation moving in Tallahassee, but very different approaches. When you look at the Florida House versus the Florida Senate, can you break it all down for us? What are lawmakers looking at?

GARY FINEOUT: Well, I think I think Antonio hit the nail with the hammer. What we've got going on is that there are a couple of bills that are moving over in the House, and they are kind of the ones that would sort of expand rights, gun rights, not huge demonstrable expansions.

We have the approach in the Senate where they've got the bill, which that's more than just the gun show loophole bill. That's a sort of a kind of omnibus bill that was taken up in the wake of mass shootings and the questions as to whether or not more needed to be done. 

And while the gun show loophole has got a lot of focus, it's actually got other elements to that bill. The thing about it is, that right now it would appear that that legislation is dead on arrival and it has no chance of passing. 

House Speaker Oliva has said he's opposed to it. And even Governor DeSantis, who came to Bill Galvano's defense against people like even Matt Gaetz and Donald Trump Jr, who had attacked Bill Galvano. Governor DeSantis says he doesn't want the bill. 

So, I just don't know how much you're going to be able to move something in a Senate chamber when you know that it would be a tough vote. And there's no prospect of it ever becoming law. So, I would imagine momentum is going to halt on that. And then we have the other two bills that are moving through the process that are gun rights bills. I would expect them to get through the house. But like one of them, having to do with guns in churches doesn't have a Senate companion. So, I don't know how far it's going to go either.

The Florida Roundup: Antonio, we are approaching the second anniversary of the tragedy in Parkland that was such a momentous event for Florida that it did prompt some changes to the state's gun laws. But two years on, you know, a whole slate of activists have come out of that tragedy, including student activists. But as we heard Gary talking about the politics of this and Florida, to say the least, they are pretty complicated, right?

ANTONIO FINS: They are. And I think you look at what happened, for example, with this whole question of a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban assault weapons. I had a really interesting conversation with Brian Mast, who's a Republican congressman from South Florida back in late summer. We talked about assault weapons. And Brian Mast is one of those people that has come out in favor of banning assault weapons. 

To our listeners who may not be that familiar with him, he is a military war veteran who lost both legs in an explosion while serving in the military in the Middle East. And what the congressman said ‘look, when I joined the military, I was given this weapon, too. It's a lethal weapon to defend a country, defend myself, and to kill the enemy. It's a weapon that is not appropriate for streets of on the American streets.’ Very, plain spoken—I think most people would agree with that. 

But you look at the battle that we have had in this state just to get that an assault weapons ban approved. And the fact that that this constitutional amendment has fallen short of the needed number of signatures, I think speaks to where this movement that got so much attention from these is really heroic kids that at Parkland, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, when they came out, and they led this movement much of 2018, that action—you know, it's just not been there. And I don't know why. 

You know, one of the issues is that younger voters who would be more you would think would be more engaged with this issue generally don't go out to vote. We did see an increase in voter registrations among younger voters in 2018. That did happen. But, you know, generally, they're not single-issue voters. They care about other issues as well. And I think that's part of the reason the two years later, you know, that movement that was so inspiring and in which it remains very inspiring hasn't really translated into more legislation and more public policy since that initial success in early 2018 right after the massacre. 

The Florida Roundup: Gary Fineout, you see activists like Fred Guttenberg, who has become a national figure in this movement, getting a lot of attention, trying to pressure the Florida legislature and Congress. But in Florida, certain groups like the NRA and others who are supporting some of the legislation you've been telling us about, they continue to have a lot of influence in Tallahassee, as you've spoken about on this show before. Right?

GARY FINEOUT: Yes, without a doubt, I mean. I mean, let's not forget the current governor basically point blank said that he did not agree with the law that was passed in the aftermath of Parkland and was signed by Governor Rick Scott. Governor DeSantis is not on board with some of the things that have happened the last couple of years.

We have an attorney general, Ashley Moody, who had her problems with the law. Now she is defending the law and continues to defend the law in court because the NRA, as you know, filed a federal lawsuit trying to challenge part of the restrictions that were included in the Parkland bill. But the politics are such that there was a moment that came quickly on the heels of the incident in which the legislature did choose to act. Now, the bill that President Galvano has pushed through came in the aftermath of another set of mass shootings. So, you know, it seems to be a sort of impetus for or for things to change. 

And the fact the matter is, is that you've got a lot of Republican lawmakers and I mean, it's sort of like this balancing act because, you know, there was actually a bill filed by a panhandle Republican to repeal most of the elements of the Parkland law. Now, that bill has also gone nowhere. You just get the feeling like, OK, well, we did that a couple of years ago, and that's about the most we're going to do, and we're not going to move forward anymore. 

I did want to touch briefly about the assault weapons ban, constitutional amendment. I think it's important to also know that part of the reason that they probably didn't make the ballot is because they didn't have the financial resources that you have with some other groups which have been able to raise large amounts of money. Some of it, we have no idea where it's from. And the legislature keeps making it harder to get constitutional amendments on the ballot. So, unless you have a lot of a large amount of money, it's very difficult to get an amendment on the ballot. 

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Denise Royal