Gunshine Update

* Low-caliber Florida Legislature: Banning assault weapons won’t happen. Too many craven GOPsters more accountable to intimidating NRA cross hairs than their own conscience and vulnerable constituents. But arming school personnel makes sense? Talk about a “basket of deplorables.”

* If ever there were a Senate roll call vote not to be missed, it would have been the recent one in Tallahassee on an assault weapons ban. The one that symbolically said so much about values, priorities and political guts. The one that fell short by a 20-17 margin. The one missed by Dana Young.

* As we well know, Florida cities are precluded from passing local gun-control legislation. Local officials can be fined and removed from office if they enact gun rules. We are, to be sure, the Gunshine State. Recall that Mayor Bob Buckhorn couldn’t even convince Gov. Rick Scott to help get a public-safety exemption for a gun-free zone during the 2012 Republican Convention when the threats ranged from anarchists to terrorists.

It’s somewhat encouraging–but also embarrassing–that it can take a constitutional amendment–not a common-sense measure by the state legislature–to ban assault weapons for non-law enforcement or non-military use. It speaks volumes that Coral Spring Mayor Skip Campbell is planning to lead a drive to do just that. The stark reality is that this Legislature is something to be worked around–not worked with when it comes to public safety and guns. Disgraceful.

“In Guns We Trust” Update

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Too bad there weren’t better Founding Copy Editors. That gives awkward a bad name. But we digress.

You don’t have to be a constitutional lawyer–or channel Barack Obama from his constitutional law-instruction days at the University of Chicago–to see that the sacrosanct, “In Guns We Trust” Second Amendment is far less than a seamless rationale for why we should allow assault weapons beyond law enforcement and military use.

It has everything to do with the post-Revolutionary War, “militia” and musket context of 1789–as well as contemporary common sense and public safety–not some unwitting scenario where the Founding Fathers were perversely prescient about the counterproductive needs and priorities of 21st century America.

Needs, according to the National Rifle Association, gun manufacturers and Second Amendment self-servers, that included private citizens having access to weapons of war. Priorities that included going to the political mattresses to prevent gun confiscation that would ostensibly begin with the banning of AR-15-like rifles and high-capacity magazines. Constitutionally, save us from our slippery slopes.

No lack of irony that the Gunshine State–of concealed-carry popularity and Stand Your Ground infamy–is now in the rhetorical cross hairs.

Gov. Rick Scott is against banning assault weapons such as the AR-15 that was legally purchased by mass murderer Nikolas Cruz. Scott diverts in predictably disingenuous, faux patriot fashion. “I know there are some who are advocating a mass taking of Second Amendment rights for all Americans,” he said, in full Founding Fodder mode. “That is not the answer.”

Of course it isn’t–merely a helluva sensible place to start.

Neither is the rationale espoused by Florida Senate President Joe Negron. He equates an assault weapons ban with a Constitutional violation. “I think there’s a delicate balance,” said Negron. “Even in difficult times, we have to follow the Constitution. We have to show fidelity to the Constitution.” As if a common sense ban that would help thwart mass murder would be Constitutional infidelity. Thanks, Joe.

And then there’s always Republican State Sen. Dennis Baxley, the Stand Your Ground author, who treats gun-control as manifested in an assault weapon ban as tantamount to treason. “I don’t see any interest here on that,” he said. “We’re pretty comfortable that freedom works.” In other words, you Second Amendment wimps are yet again trying to make the case for an infringement on freedom.

Surely, the Founding Fathers weren’t hoping to inspire zero-sum, bumper-sticker sophistry that would imperil the innocent. Surely.

However, increasing the assault weapon age limit to 21 could, ironically, be less than helpful. It could give the impression that something quite meaningful had actually been done, when, in effect, it becomes a political talking point of negligible help. Which would be readily apparent at the next horrific mass shooting.

Arms And Teachers

President Trump, as we know, has endorsed the arming of specially trained teachers to help prevent mass shootings such as the one at Parkland High School. No surprise that Florida Senate President Joe Negron and a number of his colleagues are among those in agreement. As in, “See, we’re doing something. Our kids are worth it.”

Among those most notably in disagreement–most school administrators, most teachers, most law enforcement officials, most parents and most kids.

As a former teacher, I can identify.

The law of unintended consequences will always be enforced. Whether it’s an armed teacher mistaken for a shooter. Whether the armed teacher errantly shoots a non-shooter. Whether the armed teacher’s gun falls into the hands of a student. There’s a reason why law enforcement–whether it’s a school or a baggage claim area or a concert–doesn’t buy the rationale of more “good guy” shooters to the rescue. Chaos isn’t very self-sorting.

“That scares me,” acknowledges Mike Grego, Pinellas County’s superintendent of schools. “And it should scare parents too, because that’s not what teachers signed up for.”

We go instead with the professionals who have been specifically trained to accept risk and signed up to protect the public–yes, even in Broward County.

Students’ Counsel

We know that the Parkland High mass murders have, in their gruesome wake, left an activist  mindset that has the potential to make a difference. Notably articulate students on the precipice of political leverage have been taking the initiative to make the case that common sense and the common good should trump the political babble and NRA obeisance that always kicks in after one of our mass tragedies.

We’ll know their impact is more than emotional transience if–or when–we start to see a noticeable uptick in young-adult voter registrations. The Gunshine State actually provides online registration at

Here in Hillsborough County, the Supervisor of Elections Office regularly visits high schools to conduct voter registration drives. Supervisor Craig Latimer’s office even uses Twitter to give students a heads up. “We work closely with all the high schools,” says Latimer. “We do see a good return on that. They know we’re coming.”

That obviously is no guarantee of registrations, let alone voting. But it does mean the system is pro-actively courting a demographic known for its flagrant under-voting.

If something meaningful is going to result from our most recent horrific mass shooting, it will arguably involve momentum initiated by those now coming of political age. Those for whom “that’s-the-way-the-system-works” is just unacceptable “BS” when it comes to a life-and-death bottom line.

We may also be seeing a reprise of sorts of what young civil rights activists did in another era–combating the forces of historical oppression. It has to start somewhere, because the assault weapon lunacy has to end sometime. There is precedent. And there is a do-the-right-thing-for-the-right-reason void.

Douglas High School student David Hogg–who’s an activist, not an actor–said it best. “I ask that this be a time of togetherness, and something that is going to be always remembered, not only as a terrible incident, but as a turning point in American history, where students speak up and speak out when the politicians won’t.”

Limits On Term Limits

Now we have the state–via the Florida House, Senate and Constitution Revision Commission– trying to tinker with local school boards. As in impose term limits on board members. Just what nobody needed: More heavy-handedness out of Tallahassee when it comes to local governance.
Moreover, enough of term limits for everyone who is elected. Shouldn’t term limits, especially at the local level where constituents can know candidates best, be, in effect, decided by the voters? Can’t experience and a verifiable, public track record trump “new blood” as a voter rationale?

Low-Caliber Candidate

Is it possible to have a statewide election without the NRA calling candidate shots? Yes, that’s a rhetorical question. And thank you, Adam Putnam, for the reminder. Republican gubernatorial candidate Putnam–in trying not to concede Marion Hammer support and not cede the “Deliverance” and alt-right primary votes to Richard Corcoran and Ron DeSantis–wants a change in Florida’s concealed weapons law. He wants to make it easier for those–among the half million who applied for permits last year–to get gun licenses even with incomplete background checks. He really does.
Florida is increasingly notorious for its pandering, GOP gubernatorial candidates. But this is truly low-caliber whoring out.

Ultimate Punishment Never Easy

Capital punishment: ultimate crime, ultimate criminal, ultimate penalty. Next case. Would that it were that simple.

“Eye for an eye”: Old Testament. “Thou shall not kill:” New Testament. Plea bargains, sentences overturned on appeal, political implications: Newer Testament.

If Howell Emanuel Donaldson III is found guilty in the Seminole Heights serial murders, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren says he will seek the death penalty. “A prosecutor’s pursuit of justice should be tempered by mercy,” he acknowledged, “but some crimes are so unconscionable, so hard to fathom, that we must leave mercy to a higher power and instead focus on achieving justice for the victims and their families.”

There is also this. We know that death sentences have no deterrent impact on murder rates. And we also know that the long-term cost of multiple, inevitable legal appeals will be outrageous–as opposed to a sentence of life without parole. Couldn’t society benefit more with a better way to allocate these funds?

Mark Elliott, the executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, thinks so. “These funds can be better used to help families who are victims of violent crime,” says Elliott, “and make our community safer by solving more crimes and preventing violent crimes from happening in the first place.”

Familial feelings, including closure, is an understandable–and emotional–variable. Even ironic. Suppose the victims were homeless, with no one to underscore their impact in life and death? No one to be societal objects of empathy and sympathy? No one to make the personal case for retribution?

Perhaps we should just let the trial play out and see if the suspect’s parents add any kind of fathomable context.


* No state has more wetlands than Florida. We are de facto stewards as well as residents. And developers. We have priorities: from ecosystems to economics. In that order–if enlightened self interest means anything. In that order, if absorbing flood water, filtering out pollution and providing wildlife habitats mean anything.

Now, however, there are two bills coursing through the legislature that threaten that already delicate balance.

Both SB 1402 and HB 7043 would expedite a change that would mean the state–“Flori-duh,” we are reminded–would replace the federal government when it comes to issuing federal wetlands permits. The cut-to-the-chase agenda: Make it easier to build in wetlands–and, in the process, construct an addition to the Rick Scott legacy of Department of Environmental Protection downgrades.

If it were to happen, there could be ripples beyond the Sunshine State. “The likelihood would be that several other states would then use this as a template,” says Eric Hughes, a former U.S. EPA wetlands expert. Alas, Rick Scott is not one of a kind–just Florida’s sell-out, Trump-supporting version.

* As we’ve been seeing, the gubernatorial campaign of name-recognition-challenged Philip Levine has been getting some ink of late as the former Miami Beach mayor tours Florida. He does, however, check off some boxes that could resonate with a mix of voters.

He’s not some classic liberal ripe for demonization by partisan opposition. He has business experience; he’s rich; he’s media savvy; he’s been elected; and he’s got a serious track record for pushing climate-change infrastructure investments in Miami Beach’s streets, sea walls and flood control system.

And, yeah, having personality, being able to contribute multi-millions of his own money to a campaign and speaking fluent Spanish in Florida–with its ever-increasing influx of Puerto Ricans–should help.

He’s a player.

Enlightened Self-Interest

Among the more notable proposals once again facing the Sunshine State are two that need more blunt and candid context: Texting while driving and restoring rights to former felons. Whether via legislation or amendment.

First, making texting while driving a primary offense needs to happen. It’s the only way to get through to too many who turn unconscionably careless and witless behind the wheel. We need to say as a society: “This is going to cost you big time–from serious fines to insurance impact to license suspension and worse. You take a selfish, cavalier attitude about distracted driving–and we’re coming after you. Count on it. Nothing will distract us.”

Second, is the ultimate rationale. We’re all impacted.

This is not some legal abstraction; the rest of US are potential victims every time we get behind the wheel because of who else might literally be crossing our driving path. We are the constituency with skin and bones in this game. Let’s do this for US. Let’s promote this for the gut-level common good.

As for former felons having their civil rights restored, it’s just fair that after having paid (via prison and probation) a societal debt–unless it was a violent felony that can never been righted–these people automatically get another shot at full citizenry.

Second, is the ultimate rationale. We’re all impacted. It’s worth repeating.

Felons who have had their rights restored–including voting, jury serving and certain professional license holding–have noticeably lower rates of recidivism. That’s a formal way of saying a restored-rights, former felon is less likely to negatively impact all of us non former felons. In short, having more than a million long-term, second-class citizens can’t be in Florida’s best interest.

This is doing the right, smart thing for the right, smart, self-serving societal reasons. For us.