“No matter the cause of violence and no matter the cost on the families,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday, “nothing seems to move them.”
But that broadside wasn’t entirely accurate: Not long ago, GOP lawmakers bucked ferocious pressure from the National Rifle Association to pass significant new gun restrictions after a deadly school shooting, which were then signed into law by a fiercely conservative Republican.
It just didn’t happen in Washington.
Three weeks after 17 people were gunned down in 2018 inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law a bill that included provisions banning weapons sales to those younger than 21, imposing a three-day waiting period on most long-gun purchases, and creating a “red flag” law allowing authorities to confiscate weapons from people deemed to constitute a public threat.
The NRA’s powerful leader in the state, Marion P. Hammer, condemned Republicans backing the bill as “betrayers.” But 75 out of 99 GOP lawmakers voted for it anyway, and Scott — who was preparing to seek a U.S. Senate seat — signed it, calling the bill full of “common-sense solutions.” Other provisions of the bill included $400 million for mental health and school security programs, and an initiative, fiercely opposed by Democrats, that would allow teachers and school staff to be trained as armed “guardians.”
Former state representative Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat who led the push in Tallahassee to pass the bill, recalled on Friday some conversations he had immediately following the Parkland attack: “There’s no way Rick Scott is raising the age to 21. The NRA is opposing it. They’re threatening Republican members. These guys are all A-rated. Marion Hammer is the strongest NRA lobbyist in the country. No way, no way, no way is it going to happen,” he said. “And then it happened.”
In a different political reality, what worked in Florida — a huge center-right state that is often seen as a bellwether of national political trends — might well be seen as a template for a national compromise to address mass acts of gun violence, such as Tuesday’s shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Most Florida Democrats, meanwhile, did not consider the bill a victory — at least, not at first. It did not include a blanket assault-weapons ban or a proposed moratorium on the sales of AR-type semiautomatic rifles, as parents and students wanted. And it included the “guardian” program, which allowed individual counties to decide whether to allow school staff to receive security training and carry guns.
Moskowitz had to argue passionately in the closing phase of the debate to convince enough Democrats that the perfect could not be the enemy of the good. Now, he said, the guardian program has become well-accepted, even in more liberal counties.
A few Democrats, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), have started pointing to the Florida bill as an example of gun laws that work — particularly the “red flag” component, which has kept guns out of the hands of nearly 6,000 troubled Floridians since it was first implemented.
Asked whether he would be willing to grant Republicans concessions, such as arming teachers or “hardening” school facilities, Blumenthal did not rule it out: “I’m always in favor of using honey rather than vinegar,” he said, so long as the sweeteners “advance, not detract, from the effort to save lives.”