Opinions – Page 5 – Florida Politics

Amy Mercer: It is not illegal to threaten a school shooting in Florida

Just days ago, 17 people, mostly teenagers, were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. There were warning signs, and one of them was an online posting under the shooter’s name that dictated “I’m going to be a professional school shooter” on a YouTube video.

These types of threats can be a critical indicator that intervention is necessary in an individual’s life to prevent violence to others. However, under current law, these kinds of threats are not illegal. Individuals can literally post online the time and location of a planned mass shooting, and individuals cannot be prosecuted.

In 2014, a Sarasota teen posted on Twitter “Can’t wait to shoot up my school,” and “It’s time. School getting shot up on Tuesday,” with a photo of a gun being placed in his backpack. In 2016, an appellate court found there was not enough to prosecute him under the current law.

Shockingly, it is not illegal to threaten mass shootings like at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Florida. Senate Bill 310 would change that.

SB 310 will allow law enforcement to act on a broader range of threats, including those made on social media. The bill makes it a third-degree felony to create and send certain written threats, including electronic communications, to kill or do great bodily injury.

There is a misconception that a law like this is already on the books and that law enforcement can assess, and take action, on threats made online. Although online threats have the potential to be an extreme danger to our communities, law enforcement officers’ hands are tied when they try to act on non-specific threats made through digital platforms. The warning signs aren’t missed, they just don’t have the tools we need to act on them.

In the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, it is critical that we pass this legislation. Gov. Rick Scott has made it a priority to enhance criminal penalties for threats to schools including those made through social media in Friday’s release of his priorities to combat school shootings. We need to move with urgency, just two weeks remain in our regular legislative session.

Law enforcement officers need the tools to protect our schools and our communities in today’s digital age. This bill allows law enforcement to do their job and act on the warning signs.

This bill is supported by a bipartisan group of legislators looking to give law enforcement more authority to keep us safe.

Now is the time to act.


Amy Mercer is the executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. The Florida Police Chiefs Association is the third largest state police chiefs association in the United States. It is composed of more than 900 of the state’s top law enforcement executives. FPCA serves municipal police departments, airport police, college and university police, private business and security firms, as well as federal, state and county law enforcement agencies. The FPCA has members representing every region of the state.

Blake Dowling: Taking a short break to talk Han Solo

There are a lot of hot topics raging throughout the state, nation and the world right now.

Debates are raging, protests are happening, as it can (and should) in a Democracy. These are serious times, with serious issues on the table.

But this column is going to steer the other way, giving you a short break from all that.

I am talking about Han Solo.

Last night, while watching one of the most miserable college basketball games in a while (17 first-half points by the Unrowdy Reptiles) I received a video:

Granted, I hadn’t given much thought to the idea of a new Star Wars Solo film, as Rouge One was one the best films in the franchise that I still enjoy re-watching; I am still trying to figure out what in the world was going on in the Last Jedi.

Luke has always really been a big whiner, “I want power converters … blah blah blah.”

Also, where did all the rebellion ships go? There are some holes in the story.

Nevertheless, after watching the short Beastie Boys infused trailer, I couldn’t be more excited.

Just kidding.

In regard to Mr. Solo, here’s what I know: He was in the Imperial Academy, then he wasn’t; he saved a Wookie and the two went off into the Galaxy, wreaking havoc like Robin Hood and Little John (sans woods), giving to the poor.

So while we take a break from our lives to enjoy these films we think we are getting away from business and politics. HA! There is more business and political judgment and analysis in a Star Wars Film than in a White House news conference.

Is Richard Nixon the Emperor? Ewoks the Viet Cong? Imperial Officers have British accents … why? The C3PO-Hillary Clinton connection? The Trade Federation and Newt Gingrich?

Back to Solo. The first time we see him on camera, he tells Luke: “I ain’t in this for your revolution kid, I expect to get paid.” Yet, our reluctant hero repeatedly sacrifices for the greater good.

So, our hero encompasses all sides of the political spectrum, taking ideologies of the right and left and blends them into a perfect interstellar smuggler, freedom fighter, etc.

Fascinating read in Newsweek from Michael O’Connor can be found here.

I don’t know where Mr. Solo would stand on government corruption, taxes or gun control but I know his character has inspired us all in some way.

Here’s to Kurt Russell for taking another part in some western, and for Tom Selleck not being interested.

Could you imagine that George Lucas also wanted Tom as Indiana Jones too?

All that so that I don’t blame you could become America’s Hero.

Our problems aren’t going away, so let’s try and work through the process to make the world a better place – get ready for some more Star Wars, which is, as of this writing, 91 days, 9 hours, 9 minutes and 9 seconds.

That is a lot of 9s for 9:50 p.m. America. Good night.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Brian Mast: I appreciate assault weapons. And I support a ban

The most important and unregrettable time of my life was the 12 years I spent in the Army. I became a bomb technician because I wanted to save lives.

I nearly gave my own life for that — I lost both my legs and a finger when a roadside bomb detonated beneath me — and have known more heroes than I can count who died defending others.

When I was with others on the battlefield and we saw a chance to save a life, we didn’t have a meeting about it; we acted immediately. I never worried about becoming a casualty myself.

Now, as a Republican congressman from Florida, I don’t fear becoming a political casualty, either. If we act now by changing laws surrounding firearms and mental illness, we too can save lives.

Most nights in Afghanistan, I wielded an M4 carbine and a 0.40-caliber pistol. The total barrel length of my M4 was approximately 14 inches with Trijicon ACOG sights, as well as an infrared laser. I usually carried 10 magazines stacked with 20 rounds of 5.56-millimeter ammunition each.

My rifle was very similar to the AR-15-style semi-automatic weapon used to kill students, teachers and a coach I knew at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where I once lived.

I have fired tens of thousands of rounds through that rifle, many in combat. We used it because it was the most lethal — the best for killing our enemies.

And I know that my community, our schools and public gathering places are not made safer by any person having access to the best killing tool the Army could put in my hands. I cannot support the primary weapon I used to defend our people being used to kill children I swore to defend.

The truth is, most gun owners are responsible sportsmen and collectors who enjoy shooting recreationally, like me, or want to protect their home in the way they see fit. I am a longtime member of the National Rifle Association. My grandfather bought me my first NRA membership when I was young, and I have the same pride he and many Americans feel at being responsible gun owners, becoming excellent marksmen and joining in the camaraderie of hunting.

We are Americans and we like to be the best; we should never lose this trait. The AR-15 is an excellent platform for recreational shooters to learn to be outstanding marksmen. Unfortunately, it is also an excellent platform for those who wish to kill the innocent.

I conceal and carry a 9-millimeter pistol most days because I know the threats, and I don’t want to die because I am unprepared to return fire.

I also know that I am made less safe by the threat of tactical rifles. I am confident I can eliminate an active shooter who is attacking with a pistol because the attacker would have to be close to me. But the defense my concealed 9-millimeter affords me is largely gone if the attacker is firing from beyond 40 yards, as he could easily do with the AR-15.

No firearm is evil. Guns are tools that fulfill the intent of their users, good or bad. But we’ve seen that the rifle of choice for many mass shooters is the AR-15.

The Second Amendment is unimpeachable. It guarantees the right of citizens to defend themselves. I accept, however, that it does not guarantee that every civilian can bear any and all arms.

For example, the purchase of fully automatic firearms is largely banned already, and I cannot purchase an AT-4 rocket, grenades, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle or an Abrams tank. I know that no single action can prevent a truly determined person from committing mass murder, and I am aware of other ways to commit mass murder, such as bombings and mass vehicular slaughter. Not being able to control everything, however, should not prevent us from doing something.

Therefore, I support the following:

Defining what constitutes an assault or tactical firearm and not allowing them for future purchase — just as we already prohibit the purchase of fully automatic firearms. The exact definition of assault weapon will need to be determined. But we should all be able to agree that the civilian version of the very deadly weapon that the Army issued to me should certainly qualify. I would not support any version of a ban that results in confiscating existing legally owned firearms.

Ensuring that every firearm purchaser has a background check. We also need to improve the background check system.

Banning the sale of accessories and add-ons that circumvent the ban on automatic firearms and increasing the ages at which individuals can purchase various categories of firearms.

Ensuring that those who have been detained for mental illness, or have been ordered by courts to receive treatment for mental illness, cannot purchase firearms.

Ensuring that someone who is being looked at as a possible terrorist, through a system of due process, cannot purchase a firearm and that any person threatening to shoot or blow up a school, in word or on social media, is placed on an FBI watch list for a long time.

Providing behavior detection training to anyone seeking a Federal Firearms License.

Making substantial resources available to schools, at their discretion, for security measures, including the opportunity to purchase enhanced security screening, install classroom panic buttons wired directly to law enforcement and hire additional school resource officers.

Holding the FBI and state agencies accountable for their failures to identify a threat like Nikolas Cruz, as well as ensuring that schools enforce basic security protocols to prevent access by unauthorized personnel.

And finally, conducting further research into the nexus of gun violence, violence in mass media and mental illness.

The president, House of Representatives, Senate, every state legislature, sheriffs, police officers, school boards, students and parents must unite with one mission: that no one will ever be murdered in school again.


Brian Mast represents Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

Perry Thurston Jr.: No joke: The ‘Punchline State’ makes history for something good

Thurston, Perry, SD 33
Perry Thurston Jr.

Florida just made history as the first state to have an African-American represent it in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statutory Hall Collection.

By approving HB 139 and its SB 472, the Florida Legislature chose to replace a statue of a Confederate Army general Edmund Kirby Smith with one of Mary McLeod Bethune, an iconic figure in American history whose influence was felt far beyond the borders of the Sunshine State.

The decision to place a statue of Bethune in the Capitol is significant. There are currently no statutes depicting black Americans in the National Statutory Hall Collection, and Bethune will only be the 10th statue to depict a woman in a collection that still has more statutes commemorating Confederate officers (12) than women.

The selection also demonstrates how state leaders came together to avoid what could have been a debilitating controversy of race. Instead of simply removing the Smith statute from the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers agreed to relocate the statue to Tallahassee and “make it available for public display,” thus avoiding false claims of “rewriting history.”

The truth is Bethune embodies the best of Florida and the fact that an overwhelming majority of state lawmakers thought her accomplishments were worthy enough for this high honor bodes well for a state that is too often maligned for its eccentricities.

For a moment, forget the “hanging chads,” the weird crimes involving sex, scams or machetes, and the other antics that have made Florida a favorite punchline for comedians and late-night television hosts.

Now our state can boast of a political achievement that brought men and women from different races, cultures, and family histories to forge an agreement that now separates Florida from the rest of the country.

Of course, it helps to have an iconic historical figure that can foster pride and unity. Florida is blessed to have such a person in Bethune.

As a child, Mary McLeod wanted to be a missionary but turned her attention toward education when the Presbyterian Church rejected her application to serve in Africa. Her dream of opening her own school brought the young teacher and her husband, Albertus Bethune to Daytona Beach, where she established a school for black girls.

The school would grow and become Bethune Cookman University, one of three private historically black colleges and universities in Florida that is recognized nationally as a prominent historic black university.

On the national stage, Bethune became the most prominent black woman of her time. In 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women, a forum for black women to secure human rights and social justice. She was also appointed to several national commissions by three U.S. presidents and became an adviser of Franklin Roosevelt.

Replacing Smith, a St. Augustine native who became a general in the Confederate Army, with a statue of a black woman did not come easily, particularly for a state where the history and traditions of the old American South are still held dear.

Florida was indeed fortunate to have had a process established by a 2016 law to replace the Smith statue with one selected by a state panel that reviewed the names of several prominent Floridians before finally selecting Mary McLeod Bethune for the statuary hall collection.

Bethune’s likeness soon will join that of Dr. John Corrie, a Florida physician who is considered the father of refrigeration and air conditioning.

Her presence in the Hall Collection will speak volumes of Florida’s values and serve as a model for other states to follow.


Perry E. Thurston Jr. is a Democrat who represents Senate District 33 District. Thurston sponsored the Senate bill to place the statue of Mary McLeod Bethune in the National Statuary Hall Collection.

Joe Henderson: Could this be the time gun debate sparks action?

Something seems different about the gun debate this time, and Tallahassee lawmakers ignore it at their peril.

The young people who marched on the state capitol and demanded to be heard on the issue of gun control are extraordinary by any measure, but it’s more than that. They are the faces of change.

They are determined that the 17 deaths of their classmates and teachers last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland will not be in vain. They are demanding something the Legislature has not been willing to give — restrictions on weapons like the one used in the slaughter.

I believe they’re going to get what they want, either that or we’ll see the balance of power shift in the Legislature as some of the NRA hard-liners get voted out as voters decided they’ve had enough of this no-compromise nonsense on these weapons of mass death.

Many of those kids who made the trip to Tallahassee aren’t old enough to vote yet, but their parents are — and millions of them who are fed up with the notion that the Second Amendment to own a gun trumps the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Such talk usually gets a dismissive wave from lawmakers who continue to endorse the NRA’s inexorable push for guns in every place, on every hip, on every street corner — all in the name of safety.

It took these kids to shout BS loudly enough to echo across the state, and I think it is starting to penetrate the force field that keeps out sanity in the House and Senate – particularly the House.

The commentary offered Thursday on Florida Politics by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob White might have passed for normal gun-rights rhetoric a few weeks ago, but now seemed way out of touch with this new reality.

He hit all the NRA talking points about good guys and bad guys, keeping guns away from the mentally ill (while his party has blocked such restrictions) and offered prayers and support for the victims. But held tightly to the absurd notion that more guns make us safer, and it’s just not so.

For me, this was his money quote: “What a travesty that it took this tragic loss of life to begin this discussion.”

Well yeah, but Republicans are the ones who blocked this discussion – over, and over, and over again. That seems to be changing.

Adam Putnam has at least delayed his controversial measure to allow concealed weapons permit to be issued without a complete background check. It would be hubris on an unprecedented scale for him to try and sneak that provision back through.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, an outspoken NRA supporter, told students that gun control measures are “on the table.” We haven’t heard that come out of Tallahassee in a while.

You know all those mailers we get during election season from Republicans showing off their NRA endorsements? In this climate, I doubt we’ll see as many of those.

GOP state Rep. Chris Latvala even bragged to CNN that he had a D rating from the NRA, the lowest of any Republican.

President Donald Trump has gotten into it as well. After a meeting Wednesday with students, parents and teachers affected by the shootings filled with raw emotion, he vowed to take real action.

I hope so.

The cynic in me notes how many Republican legislators in Tallahassee managed to dodge meeting with students and protesters. We can assume NRA lobbyists are working overtime to sure nothing of substance gets done. They’ll fight a delaying game, like they always do. They’ll rely on their strongest voices in the House and Senate to do their bidding.

They’ll hope people will eventually get on with other parts of their lives.

That’s how the gun debate has always worked.

This really seems different, though.

For one thing, the Pulse nightclub slaughter in Orlando happened in mid-June, 2016 — after the Legislature had adjourned.

The slaughter in Parkland happened right in the middle of this year’s Session, in a public high school that could have been anywhere in the state.

It tore open the question of how it could have been avoided, and the old argument that having more guns in the school would have made it safer sound ridiculous.

The fact it took a tragedy on this scale to make that point is beyond awful. Meeting in the middle has never been part of the NRA’s game plan, but that may be the best it can hope for this time.

These kids aren’t going away.

They are determined. They are smart. They are compelling.

And they are right.

Bob White: Our rights to life and liberty are secured by our right to keep and bear arms

Like many of you, I have been praying for those that were murdered or injured in Parkland, as well as for their families and the community. Our hearts are broken for them.

The grief and sorrow being experienced by this community is no doubt crushing to their souls and we should continue to lift them up in prayer as they live in the aftermath of this tragedy.

We should continue our prayers for the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School family and for the Parkland community, but we must do so as we now come to grips with how this happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again!

What happened in Parkland has not changed my position on government-mandated “gun free zones” one iota. If anything, it has made my resolve to protect our citizens even greater. I have walked the walk in the gun rights debate in Tallahassee, advocating for open carry, campus carry and the elimination of government-mandated gun-free killing zones.

Anyone interested can review my platform position on this issue at www.bobforflorida.com.

The sad truth is that what happened in Parkland could have and should have been prevented.

As reported in the USA Network newspapers, “Long before authorities accused Nikolas Cruz of killing 17 people at his former high school in less than five minutes, state social workers, mental health counselors, school administrators, police and the FBI received warnings about his declining mental state and penchant for violence.”

The FBI has admitted that it received these warnings weeks in advance of this tragedy, failed to recognize the threat and did not forward the information to the Miami field office for investigation.

This systemic failure on the part of the FBI and multiple other government agencies led directly to the massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School..

As I write this article workshops organized by Gov. Rick Scott are taking place at the Florida Department of Education (DOE), the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Florida Sheriffs Association “to discuss ways to keep Florida students safe, including school safety improvements and keeping guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness.”

These workshops are a good idea.

I have no doubt that there are physical improvements that can be made that will make our schools safer. Regarding mental illness, to be brutally frank, a serious discussion regarding how we handle and fund treatment for mental illness in Florida is long overdue and not just as it relates to keeping firearms out of the hands of those that are “struggling with mental illness.”

What a travesty that it took this tragic loss of life to begin this discussion.

However, make no mistake. It is not a cliché, but rather a cold hard fact that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Gov. Scott and the Florida Legislature, for the protection of our students, faculty and staff, must now come to an agreement and proscribe by statute, the specific conditions under which the concealed carry of firearms will be allowed in our public schools, by faculty and administrative staff that choose to do so. We should also consider allowing retired law enforcement officers willing to volunteer their services to act as plainclothes school resource officers available to back up uniformed school resource officers at every public-school campus.

It is maddening that these are not new ideas.

Various versions of school security legislation have been introduced in recent years in the Florida Legislature that would have provided for local school districts to adopt these kinds of security measures, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. We cannot wait any longer.

We need school security measures in place at every school that includes active shooter response plans and additional training and education for members of faculty and staff with concealed carry permits that volunteer to carry on campus.

In our communities at large, those of us that are comfortable doing so, must adopt the mindset that we are our own first responders.

I have the utmost respect for the men and women that serve our communities as law enforcement officers. But they cannot be everywhere at once. It’s been said that you can always count on the police to be there in minutes when seconds count.

That’s not a knock on law enforcement. It’s just reality, as so tragically proven at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

Never again Florida. Never again!


Bob White serves as the chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida and is a Republican candidate for Governor.

Joe Henderson: Only lowest of low would spread lies about Parkland students

What kind of vermin would say two Parkland students grieving from last week’s massacre at their high school were really actors who were being paid to make gun owners look bad?

I think we can all agree this represents the lowest of the low. Well, apparently not “all” of us. Helping spread that lie is why Benjamin Kelly lost his job Tuesday night as an aide to Republican state Rep. Shawn Harrison of Tampa.

Kelly sent an unsolicited note to Alex Leary, Washington correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times, that said, “Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”

When Leary asked for proof, he was provided with a link to a YouTube conspiracy video. Not long after, Kelly was out of a job.

Yes, Kelly got what he deserved for spreading crap even as funerals are being held for victims of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. But I ask again, what kind of horrible human being tries to turn an unfathomable tragedy into a personal attack on two students because they dared to speak out in the first place?

Well, someone did. They must be very proud today.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio summed it up as well as anyone by tweeting this was the work of a “disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency.”

I got into a long back-and-forth on Facebook Tuesday night about that subject with a guy I knew back in high school a long, long time ago but hadn’t kept up with. He was adamant the story was real and that I was a big part of the problem because I didn’t believe it.

He noted, “Yesterday CNN was caught using professional actors claiming to be Parkland students demanding gun control. My question is, when can we expect to read your column condemning CNN for this shameful and unprofessional journalistic practice.”

I could almost hear him stomping his foot. He wouldn’t accept overwhelming evidence that the story was fabricated. He wouldn’t accept the word of the Broward County school superintendent that the two people in questions were students.

He had read it somewhere on wing nut media, and it had to be true.

This is what we’re up against.

Back in the day, I can remember having a good chuckle at headlines on tabloids like the National Enquirer as I stood in the grocery store checkout line. That was about as crazy as it got.

Now, there is a whole industry devoted to tin foil hats and deranged conspiracies. This might be a good time to remember that then-candidate Donald Trump helped further that when he told chief kook Alex Jones that his reputation is “amazing.”

The president also has regular attacks on individuals, the foundations of government, the media (of course) and, well, you know.

Separately, the nonsense is easy to dismiss. But then something like this happens and we can see how it all comes together. We can’t even take comfort (if comfort is to be found) that it’s all just Facebook babble, not when it reaches into the office of a Florida state representative and belittles two Parkland students who just lived through a horror.

There have always been people who believe 9/11 was an inside job and that we faked the moon landing, but usually they were contained in their own little bubble.

No more.

In their world, truth is whatever they want it to be. Facts are lies. Everything is a cover-up.

And the crazier it gets, the more likely they are to believe.

That’s no lie.

Joe Henderson: It’s fitting to name St. Pete’s library after Barack Obama

You can make a strong case that it is appropriate the city of St. Petersburg decided to rename its main library after President Barack Obama.

Oh dear. What did I just do?

I said something nice about Barack Obama. Release the trolls! Or at least the Russian bots.

While those hounds are picking up my scent, consider this: Cities name stuff after former presidents all the time. In California alone, there are six schools named after President Ronald Reagan. When I go to Cincinnati, I drive on the Ronald Reagan Cross County Highway.

In Washington, travelers fly out of Reagan National Airport.

Right here in Florida, the Legislature named the state turnpike the Ronald Reagan Turnpike 1998.

Jimmy Carter had a nuclear sub named after him.  Lyndon Johnson has the space center in Houston named in his honor. And, of course, there is the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. Even Richard Nixon had a couple of schools named after him – before he resigned in disgrace.

But, you know, this is Obama – so, as they say, haters gonna hate. If you doubt that, just read many of the comments on the bottom of a story about the news on TampaBay.com.

They overlook that a huge part of his legacy is the work he and his wife, Michelle, did to promote childhood literacy in this country. He started the open e-books program for special education and Title I teachers, giving access to $250 million worth of books.

The “Let Girls Learn” program was designed to help 62 million girls worldwide receive access to books and education. He promoted literacy programs to help pre-schoolers become better prepared to enter kindergarten.

So, this is just me, but I think naming a library after a president who was a relentless champion of learning and raising literacy rates, particularly in the neediest areas, is a fine thing to do.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is getting knocked around by some about this. Critics are calling it a thank-you to Obama after he campaigned for Kriseman’s successful re-election campaign. They’re asking what Obama has ever done for this area.

Well, you could ask the same about a lot of those other dedications across the country to former presidents. Obama was a frequent visitor to the Tampa Bay area and carried Florida in both of his campaigns, so it’s not like he was a stranger to the people here.

In a nation as divided as this one now, finding middle ground on these issues is impossible. It will be the same way a few years when some locales decide to name things after Donald Trump. (Note to self: resist the urge to say something snarky … must resist … must resist … keep it positive).

But Barack Obama was the president for eight years, and his popularity rating was 59 percent when he left office. He must have done a few things right.

You can look it up at any public library.

Joe Henderson: After Parkland shooting young people say ENOUGH!

To those young people who lived through the slaughter that was the Parkland shooting and vowed this will be the last time any school endures this: stick with it.

I hope you march on Washington next month, like many of you promise. I hope you inspire others to march in cities around the state and country.

I hope the raw passion of your words will be enough to shame the shameless sellouts who masquerade as lawmakers but are really just paid billboards for the National Rifle Association. That will be much harder than you think. These people are good at giving you a comforting hug with one hand while taking NRA cash with the other.

Those people don’t believe you will follow through.

They think after the echo of the bullets that flew through the halls and classrooms at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School subsides, most of you will return to a life of disengagement.

They think most of you will eventually get discouraged when lawmakers ignore and patronize you. Despite all their “thoughts and prayers” in this time of unfathomable tragedy, they don’t take you seriously enough to do something about the problem of too many guns.

That’s because they don’t believe that all these guns are a problem.

Prove them wrong.

They didn’t know your friends and teachers who were murdered. They probably weren’t paying attention to the rallies you attended in the aftermath of the killing. They were trying to figure out how to turn this tragedy to their advantage, or at least contain the political fallout.

President Donald Trump used the occasion to turn the focus on himself by blaming the FBI for investigating Russian trickery in the last election while fumbling clear signs that Nicklas Cruz was getting closer every day to inflicting horror on you and the nation.

While you were holding candlelight vigils and preparing to attend funerals, he was tweeting about Oprah Winfrey.

Think about that.

Many of you aren’t old enough yet to vote, but those who can should register and absolutely make your voice heard at the ballot box. And everyone should learn how the process works.

Learn the names and views of your state lawmakers — the ones who go to Tallahassee and keep voting to expand what is ironically called “gun rights.” They are the ones who want more guns in our state, not fewer. They don’t seem to care about the rights of those being shot in situations like what you just endured.

Learn who represents you in Congress. There is a wealth of information available online about how these people vote and who gives them money. Learn it, share it, and make your friends understand they have to care about this.

Rallies and vigils are fine, but the best way to fix the culture is to change the names and faces of those who make the laws.

You have vowed to make sure things will be different in the future, and I hope you do. The adults have certainly made a big enough mess of things. The anguish so many of you shared in the last week is evidence that you want change.

You deserve at least that much.

The adults who want to hold on to power are playing politics with a tragedy — your tragedy. Show them they’re wrong. Flood them with letters, protests, and the like.

Look up what happened in the 1960s, with the Vietnam War. A steady barrage of student-led protests against a useless slaughter of young Americans in a pointless conflict finally made a difference. Keep at it.

You can make a difference too.

After Parkland, America needs you to do just that.

Jill Beitscher Fox: ‘The look’

And there it is. The look.  The look I knew I would see.

And I will get it again and again, from this moment forward.  I just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

As my family checked in to our hotel tonight, after two nights of choppy, if any sleep, countless hours spent wandering around aimlessly in a state of daze and confusion, and an exhausting day of traveling.  It was happening now.

But at this moment, this moment that I knew would take place; I was still caught off guard …

The sound of the news helicopters brings back memories of my days in the feed room at NBC and watching the chopper land right outside my window.

In those days, the news was bad, and I saw horrible things. Sheets draped over motorcycle crash victims way too often, a car chase flying down a highway at ungodly speeds, a child laying lifeless in a dirty swimming pool.

However, when you see it that often, it becomes routine. It’s terrible to say, but you get used to it.

Only this was so incredibly different. Maybe it was the eight or so years that have passed, maybe it’s that this time it’s in my backyard, but this is unforgettable.

I’m living in a heartbroken community where everyone in a state of shock, a sea faces with bloodshot eyes, undone hair and traces of mascara, each person looking like they haven’t slept for days, and have obviously been crying.  Endless alerts from residents’ phones with social media updates about victims and constant texts from friends and family with their concerns.

Shaking voices as people tell their stories … whom they knew or knew of, a girl from their synagogue, their daughter’s dance class or the neighboring gated community.  Seeing my neighbors so overcome with emotion that they don’t know what to do next, pacing around our cul-de-sac, screaming in agony in their driveway with cars coming and going at all hours, this is our new reality.

I’m not going to claim that I know how this or any of the affected families feel because I don’t, and I have been thanking God for that as much as possible. But for my husband, and me watching it from just a few doors down put it in perspective.

My son at 8-years-old and just a few days got to experience his first candlelight vigil.  He sat on his daddy’s shoulders as if he was watching a concert, crowded in the same amphitheater where he was handed his football trophy just a few months ago.

He mentioned how he wanted a better look at the lighted angels on the stage and referred to them as “decorations,” as only my son would do.

He listened to the names of the victims read one by one, different members of the community bawling after the senior class president, so thoughtful and composed, announced each one. He observed the 17 sky lanterns fly off into the distance, but I’m not sure he realized what they stood for. He wanted to play in the park, and I had to tell him no.

This wasn’t the time.

We were there to pay our respects to the victims and their families.

 I’ve heard many refer to this experience as surreal.  And I guess what they say is true. You never think it’s going to be you. Well, this one was too close to home. This IS my home.  And even though I’m not close to any of those directly affected by this tragedy, I look at the pictures of the victims and their families, and I ache for them.

I look at them, and I see my family.

A photo of a mom and dad, a son and daughter, a dog or two, and a Star of David around someone’s neck. That’s my family a few years down the road.

The city I live in, our community where we joke about our silly “Parkland problems” will never be the same.

People poke fun of Parkland’s affluent neighborhoods with our fancy cars and golf carts, but if they could witness the outpouring of love and generosity that I’ve seen during the past few days, they would change their views of our Parkland community.

We did drive our golf cart to the community vigil because we knew parking would be an issue, and I wanted to get home to my 4-year-old as quickly as possible, because now I am unsettled when my children are out of my sight.

There is now an underlying sense of fear, and until it subsides a bit, I want my family together, all in one place.

I no longer have to refer to my community as “a little south of Boca” or “pretty close to Coral Springs.” From now on, I know when I say I’m from Parkland, I will get “the look.”  That look of terror in their eyes and shock on their face.

And then, there will most likely be a follow-up question. The same question I asked my neighbor just one day ago: “Did you lose someone?”

But I’m the lucky one. I’m the one that gets to answer with a sigh of relief.

No, thank God. My family is safe.


Jill Beitscher Fox, a wife and mother of two, is a Parkland resident, a professional producer and PR executive.

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