After the bloody assault at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando nearly a year ago resulted in the deaths of 49 people, 13 members of the Florida Legislature — 12 Democrats and Miami GOP state Sen. Anitere Flores — were on the losing side of a request to hold a special session on gun regulations.
Despite that attitude at the Capitol, Michelle Gajda, the leader of the state chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, says Floridians have the power to end gun violence.
“There are reasonable, common sense solutions on the table in states across the country,” she told a crowd of around 100 people gathered Saturday at The Portico in downtown Tampa. “All we have to do is support them and elect individuals who will support us.”
The event in Tampa was one of 17 held in Florida this weekend centered around National Gun Violence Awareness Day, which was Friday.
Before the legislative session began this March, there were more than a dozen bills filed that would have expanded the rights of gun owners, including proposals to lift bans on allowing concealed weapons permit-holders to carry guns in airports, legislative meetings, and college campuses.
None of them passed.
Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren said the issue of sensible gun control shouldn’t be turned into a partisan battle between Second Amendment loving Republicans and gun control supporting Democrats. “This is a public safety issue,” he declared to cheers from the audience.
“This is a common-sense issue,” he added. “Common sense that we have to have a frank and candid conversation.”
“Common sense isn’t common, certainly not in Tallahassee,” countered Democrat Sean Shaw, who recently completed his first regular session in the Legislature (and will return for a special session next week). Shaw, who represents Tampa’s House District 61. said he was flabbergasted to hear some of the rhetoric about guns during the legislative session.
“If you were in Tallahassee, and you heard the debates that took place before the Senate and the House, you would be disgusted at your elected officials, as you should be, because the words coming out of people’s mouths were lies,” Shaw said, referring specifically to statements by lawmakers who said some bills weren’t about Trayvon Martin (he didn’t elaborate).
Among the gun bills debated in Tallahassee this spring included a proposal to shift the burden of proof from defendants to the prosecution in Stand Your Ground cases.
Warren joined a group of state attorneys throughout the state who lobbied against the change, to some success.
“It’s gone from being a terrible bill to a bad one,” he said, adding that the impact will still be significant.
“I don’t see the Second Amendment gun rights and reasonable standards as being mutually exclusive, and I don’t know why we have to have these arguments across the aisle instead of coming together, as other countries have done,” said former Tampa Police Chief (and potential mayoral candidate) Jane Castor.
Castor blasted the proposal (that failed for a second consecutive year) that would have allowed for people over the age of 21 to carry guns in Florida’s state colleges and universities. Referring to how her two sons will be attending college this fall, she said the combination of 18-year-olds who aren’t used to used to socializing with other cultures amid an atmosphere that includes consumption of alcohol was a toxic mix.
“How does that make sense to anyone to have firearms on a school campus?” Castor asked. “Common sense is what we have to try to strive for as a nation, and we can start here as a grassroots group.”
The crowd also heard intensely emotional comments from Deanna Joseph and Andrea Pinkett, both members of the Tampa chapter of Circle of Mothers, a group formed by Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin.
The group was established as a way to empower women who have experienced the loss of a child, especially due to gun violence.
“It doesn’t matter the nationality, it doesn’t matter where you live, we gotta start loving each other more, we gotta start caring for each other, we gotta stop fighting,” said Pinkett, whose son was killed by gun violence on the last day of 2015. “It don’t make no sense.”