IT IS now beyond doubt: The fearless student survivors of the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting are changing the debate about gun control. Proof lies in the Florida legislature’s vote for new firearms regulations and other gun-violence prevention measures.
The students didn’t get everything they wanted in Tallahassee, and clearly more changes are needed. But their victory over the National Rifle Association in a state that has long done the gun-rights group’s bidding was nothing short of stunning. Hopefully it will embolden efforts in other states — not to mention in Congress — for stricter gun-control laws that will help protect public safety.
Less than a month after the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that gave rise to the powerful student movement, Florida lawmakers Wednesday approved the first gun-control measures to pass in the state in more than 20 years. Among the new restrictions: raising the legal age to purchase all firearms to 21, banning bump stocks, closing a loophole that allowed gun purchases without completed background checks and establishing a “red-flag” process to remove guns from those seen as a danger. The bill was sent to Gov. Rick Scott (R) , but he hasn’t indicated whether he will sign the measure. As he gears up to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D), Mr. Scott is feeling the same pressure that was brought to bear on the legislature.
Florida lawmakers for decades, as detailed in a recent New Yorker profile of the state’s NRA lobbyist, have been under the unhealthy sway of the gun lobby. Some of the most extreme gun-rights laws in the country, including the first “stand your ground” law and a measure (later ruled unconstitutional) that barred doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership, were rubber-stamped by the legislature, while any bill that appeared to hinder gun owners never came up for a vote. So, as John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, observed, breaking the NRA’s stranglehold while the whole nation was watching is “a big deal.”
Given Florida’s sorry history and Republican control of the legislature, it is not surprising — albeit still disappointing — that lawmakers were unwilling to meet some of the bolder demands of the Parkland students, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. That the bill contains a controversial provision long desired by the NRA that would allow school personnel to be armed under a voluntary program shows there are still battles to be waged. Good, then, that the students have also become involved in voter-registration drives and are focused on the need to elect lawmakers, state and national, who are willing to represent the public interest and not that of the NRA lobbyists who fund their campaigns.
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