TALLAHASSEE, Fla. --- In the run-up to the 2020 legislative session, the Florida Senate will review acts of mass violence such as the deadly shootings this weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, along with factors such as white nationalism.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, on Monday directed Senate Infrastructure and Security Chairman Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, to lead efforts to determine if any further action is needed after laws were enacted in the wake of the Feb. 14, 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
“With committee meetings resuming just one month from now, our focus should be on steps the Senate can take to review and better understand the various factors involved in mass shootings, in addition to, and also including, school shootings,” Galvano wrote in a memo to senators. “This includes white nationalism, which appears to be a factor not only with regard to these recent mass shootings, but also with other acts of violence we have seen across the country in recent years.”
The House isn’t expected to engage in a similar review before the January start of the 2020 session. House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, released a statement in which he said “Racism, including white nationalism, is a vile, disgusting, un-American ideology.”
“We cannot lose sight, however, that those who subscribe to those beliefs are few and their ideas so rejected that their words and actions unify all Americans --- left and right, black, white or brown --- in abhorrence and condemnation,” Oliva said.
Oliva noted that as a Hispanic American, he’s seen more generosity and inclusiveness than discrimination and hatred.
“What we know is; evil exists, all of us play part in either expanding hatred or loving our neighbor, and despite what we see on the news, America is a great place, filled with kind people, always willing to help a neighbor in need,” Oliva said. “We must ask ourselves more than ‘what to do’ we must figure out, as leaders and as a society, ‘who we are.’ ”
When asked about Galvano’s directive in the Senate, Oliva’s spokesman, Fred Piccolo, said the speaker stood by his statement.
“He believes the solution to hatred, violence, and intolerance largely rests outside of politics,” Piccolo said.
Florida leaders reacted Monday after a lone gunman killed at least 22 people at an El Paso Walmart store Saturday in what the U.S. Justice Department is treating as a case of domestic terrorism. Early Sunday, at least 10 people, including the shooter, died in a separate incident in a Dayton entertainment district.
The shootings come after years of debate in Florida about gun-control issues, including whether to ban assault weapons. The Republican-dominated Legislature has rejected proposals by Democrats to ban the semi-automatic weapons.
A political committee Ban Assault Weapons NOW is trying to get a proposed ban on the November 2020 ballot.
“This weekend, we saw yet two more mass shootings in our country take the lives of 31 fellow Americans, with both shooters armed with military-grade assault weapons,” Gail Schwartz, chairwoman of Ban Assault Weapons NOW, said in a prepared statement. “These events highlight the harsh reality: These killings will continue to happen, here in Florida and across the country, until we take action and do what our elected leaders have failed to do. We must ban these weapons of war."
After a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year, the Legislature approved a wide-ranging measure that required schools to have safety officers, bolstered mental-health services and upgraded protections through school “hardening” projects.
The law also raised the minimum age from 18 to 21 and required a three-day waiting period for purchasing rifles and other long guns. The increase in the minimum age to purchase long guns drew a still-pending legal challenge from the National Rifle Association.
In May, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation (SB 7030) that built on the 2018 bill. Among other things, it expanded the controversial school “guardian” program to allow armed classroom teachers, put $75 million into school mental-health services and strengthened reporting requirements for potentially threatening incidents that happen on school premises.
DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody on Monday pointed to a need to prioritize public safety.
Helen Ferre, a DeSantis spokeswoman, said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement a month ago formed a Law Enforcement Steering Group comprised of sheriffs and police chiefs to aid local law enforcement in protecting Floridians from “senseless acts of targeted mass violence.”
“Florida is the first state in the country to pursue such a comprehensive threat assessment strategy,” she said.
Moody said during a news conference in Jacksonville that everyone should be “horrified, shocked and saddened” by the recent attacks and more needs to be done to detect “those that are mentally deranged, that would seek to do us harm.”
Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley said on Twitter that “the ideology of white supremacy is evil."
"It is the antithesis of what our country stands for and it offends God,” Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said. “It must be confronted aggressively so that it cannot metastasize further.”
Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, urged Floridians to back the 2020 ballot proposal to ban assault weapons. Backers of the proposed constitutional amendment still need to submit hundreds of thousands of petition signatures and get a key approval from the Florida Supreme Court before the issue could go to voters.
“Republicans in FL won’t act on our epidemic of gun violence,” Farmer tweeted.
The proposed constitutional amendment seeks to ban “possession of assault weapons, defined as semiautomatic rifles and shotguns capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition-feeding device.” The measure, which would not prohibit handguns, includes an exemption for military and law-enforcement personnel “in their official duties.”
The proposal would allow people who already own assault weapons at the time the constitutional amendment goes into effect to keep them, if they register the guns with state law enforcement.
Moody is asking the Supreme Court to block the proposal from going on the ballot and reiterated Monday that she thinks the proposal’s wording is “misleading,” contending the proposal would ban possession of “about virtually every self-loading long gun.”
In his directive Monday, Galvano said the Senate will monitor “potential actions” that may be taken by the federal government, “which could impact our decisions and options at the state level.”