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

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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.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


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