Late last week, a federal appeal court struck down an NRA-backed law that restricted doctors in Florida from talking to patients about gun safety.
The legislation, often referred to as “Docs vs. Glocks,” passed during the 2011 Legislative session. It said doctors could be censored, fined, and have licenses revoked if asked or talked to patients about their firearms.
The court ruling stands out as a rare loss for the National Rifle Association in Florida, but only because they haven’t faced strong enough opposition, contends Michelle Gajda, the Florida chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
“The truth is, the gun lobby has run roughshod over the state for decades and they’re finally being countered by a coalition of concerned Floridians, moms, gun owners, educators, gun violence survivors and gun owners themselves,” she says of her organization, created in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012.
Bills in the 2016 legislative session on open carry and allowing guns on college campuses passed through the House but were thwarted in the Senate after Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla refused to hold hearings on those two bills. However, the Miami Republican was defeated in November for re-election, and the pre-session hype is that those bills have a better chance in the 2017 Session.
Acknowledging that Diaz de la Portilla’s departure is “deeply felt,” Gajda says she remains confident that her organization’s advocacy can make a difference on those and other NRA-sponsored bills that will be winding their way through the Legislature when the regular session begins next month.
To assert their presence, more than 100 volunteers from Moms Demand Action intend to visit legislators in the Capitol Tuesday, where they will be joined by activists with the Michael Bloomberg founded gun control group Everytown, as well as gun violence survivors.
“The gun lobby has never encountered opposition in Florida like they’re encountering now and they don’t know how to react to it,” Gajda boldly declares. “They don’t know how to react to real citizens standing up and demanding that they operate in the sunlight. They’re used to operating in rooms in with closed doors in secret meetings and in committee hearings that nobody attends, and what Moms have been able to do is force their agenda into the daylight, and we will be at every single committee hearing, telling them that this is not what Floridians want.”
At least eight bills dealing with guns are currently pending in the Legislature this year.
Meanwhile, Moms Demand Action are sponsoring the screening of a documentary, “The Armor of Light” Wednesday night on the USF campus.
The film centers around the relationship between Lucy McBath, the mother of unarmed 17-year Jordan Davis, who was shot and killed by in 2012 in circumstances that highlighted the state’s Stand Your Ground law, and Evangelical minister Rob Schenck, who is searching to find the courage to preach about the growing toll of gun violence in the U.S.
Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor is scheduled to speak before the screening, and there will be a panel discussion after the film featuring former Tampa assistant Police Chief Mary O’Connor, Hillsborough Safe & Sound Executive Director Freddy Barton, Assistant State Attorney Chinwe Fossett and Hyde Park United Methodist Director/Pastor Reverend Justin LaRosa.
That screening will take place Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the University Lecture Hall on the USF campus. Parking will be available at the USF Sun Dome. (You can RSVP here).
Speaking of Stand Your Ground, on Wednesday, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will take up HB 245, filed by Palatka Republican Bobby Payne and Jacksonville Republican Jason Fischer. HB 245 would shift the burden of proof in “stand your ground” self-defense cases to prosecutors during evidentiary hearings. Last year, a similar bill was sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley in the Senate and passed through before dying in a House committee.
“I want to make it super clear that there’s absolutely no constituency crying out for this bill,” says Gajda, “Not a single private citizen demanded this legislation. The gun lobby just wants to override Florida courts to advance its own agenda. There’s no demonstrated need to expand Stand Your Ground.”
“What I hope is the outcome of this is something that I hope we all agree on, that people who should not be arrested are not arrested, and people who should not go to trial do not go to trial,” Bradley said after his bill passed in a Senate committee last month. “If I believed that an individual who was otherwise guilty would go free because this bill passed, then I wouldn’t have filed the bill.”