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Daniel Tilson: The secret to gun safety in Florida

Bells tolled, tears rolled and prayers rose toward the heavens on the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School gun massacre last Saturday, while the profound lack of progress in reducing gun violence weighed down many a mourning spirit.

In the wake of that tragedy, the victims’ families and friends galvanized millions of new supporters nationwide to join in a broad coalition fighting for legislative action on gun safety.

But because of the $12-billion gun industry’s spending power and the political strong-arming it does through the NRA, there have in fact been more laws passed nationwide expanding gun rights this past year than limiting them.

With millions of people intentionally misled into perceiving gun-safety initiatives as dangerous threats to their gun ownership rights, public opinion on the general need for stricter gun laws remains deeply divided.

Yet when it comes to universal background checks of gun buyers, a recent national poll found 74 percent of all respondents – including 64 percent of Republicans – would be “somewhat” or “very” pleased with a new law requiring it.

Another poll shows Florida-specific support for the measure at almost identical levels, with 75 percent overall support and 64 percent among Republicans.

But no such law came close to passing in Congress, much less in the Florida Legislature.

Only one of 14 new gun-safety bills introduced in the 2013 legislative session passed, prohibiting people voluntarily committed to mental-health treatment facilities from purchasing firearms.

A recent editorial in the Sun Sentinel sums it up:

“In a state with more concealed weapons permits than any in the nation, there was no meaningful gun legislation passed. The Florida Legislature refused to make any changes in the controversial Stand Your Ground law. And there are two bills pending that would exempt warning shots from criminal and civil prosecution. That’s how Florida deals with gun control — it turns the other way, and lets the National Rifle Association call the shots, no pun intended.”

The NRA calls the shots via a relative minority of gun owners who refuse to believe that most of us agree with them about protecting Second Amendment rights, no matter what.

These are the folks that gun-industry money, NRA propaganda and others with profit-and-power seeking agendas have turned into loud activists, loyal donors and most importantly, into voters who pledge to – and do – vote only for candidates with a record of or commitment to blocking gun-safety laws and regulations.

This combination of money, media and well-organized grassroots doggedness scares and sways government officials at all levels, shapes public policy, and drowns out voices of more moderate gun owners who are in the majority.

To make our country, state and neighborhoods safer, these moderates have to step up to the plate, and to the polls; proving that they too can be dogged in voting only for candidates who support basic gun-safety measures like universal background checks.

This silent majority of gun owners need to know that as firearms sales have skyrocketed in Florida since 2000, so has the number of gun murders.

Just as with the nuclear weapons buildup that characterized Cold War tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union for years, fear is making good people sit idly by and watch an arms race that can’t be “won.” Instead, they should be standing up and insisting their government negotiate arms reduction agreements.

Allowing profit-and-power seekers to engineer a no-holds-barred, no-safety gun system hasn’t worked, and won’t.

Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of their country, and state.

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