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Joe Henderson: Some ideas for Senate to consider in mass killing review

Tom Lee says he has no preconceived notions in seeking solutions against gun violence

Progress on curbing gun violence in our state and nation moves at an agonizingly slow pace. It seems like it takes a mass killing as we saw twice over the weekend for politicians to get serious about the problem.

But I’ll give Florida Senate President Bill Galvano credit for being willing to seek the right answers to questions that torment us all. He assigned fellow Senator Tom Lee to lead an effort to “review and better understand the various factors involved in mass shootings, in addition to, and also including, school shootings.”

We should note, though, the study is about mass killings, not just shooting. Let’s not confuse the two.

The bipartisan hearings should begin in September.

Lee received an A-plus rating in 2018 from the National Rifle Association. But he also has been known to wander off the Republican reservation and seek common ground when he feels compelled. Hopefully, this will be one of those times.

“The longer I’ve been at this, the more important I believe it is to approach these things with data,” Lee said. “But the hardest part of these things is that there isn’t much wiggle room between the parties on what they will or won’t do. That’s the challenge. I also feel like if you take decisions off the table before you start, you’re making decisions for the body politick.”

Well, let’s go ahead and put a few things on the table. Some of them might head off the next mass killing.

Magazine capacity restrictions: The murderer in the Dayton, Ohio massacre equipped a legally purchased AR-15 style pistol with a 100-round drum magazine. He fired 41 rounds in 30 seconds before police shot and killed him.

Large-capacity magazines are a staple of other mass killings, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Nine states and the District of Columbia outlaw them, but there is no such restriction in Florida.

It’s moving in the right direction, though. Florida banned bump stocks last year after the Parkland massacre. Take it to the next level. Ban magazine drums. Make their possession a felony with serious prison time. That should be low-hanging fruit.

Guns on college campuses: This is something the NRA has wanted for a while and hasn’t gotten. The state still prohibits guns on college campuses. Lawmakers keep trying to over-ride that though, and they will again.

Universities throughout the state overwhelmingly oppose this idea. Florida State University President John Thrasher is particularly outspoken on this issue.

Listen to him. There might be another attempt next year to eliminate the so-called gun-free zones. After all, this is Florida. But Lee could issue a preemptive statement why that would be a horrible idea. It’s called leadership.

White nationalism: Do we really have to say it’s bad? I didn’t think so. But turn up the heat to broiling on organizations or individuals who advocate racist garbage.

School security: This is a tougher issue. Much raw emotion remains from the aftermath of Parkland. The state is more serious than ever about requiring stronger security at its public schools. Now, keep looking for soft spots.

Large schools like Stoneman Douglas have far different issues and challenges than smaller elementary or middle schools. Each student deserves to feel safe, no matter where they attend school. But working at a large public high school can be like drinking from a fire hose.

It can overwhelm a staff trying to teach, or answer phones that never stop ringing. They deal with cranky parents and student discipline issues. That’s just the normal stuff. Spend a couple of days in the front office of a busy high school as a fly on the wall.

Observe and learn what really goes on.

Lee said he understands what’s riding on this.

“Our office has been flooded with calls on this from people on both sides,” he said. “Sometimes you feel like you don’t have a lot of answers, and people are worried.

“But (Galvano) asked me to do this, and I’m happy to step up. It’s like the sports analogy. If you don’t want the ball in the fourth quarter, you don’t belong. And I got into this to be an honest broker and to make a difference.”

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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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