Between Parkland and the Columbine anniversary, Florida's gun conversation still rages

From fighting for local control over gun laws to clear backpacks, the conversation remains as April 20th approaches.

click to enlarge Activists rallied in February and throughout March for stronger gun safety measures. - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
Activists rallied in February and throughout March for stronger gun safety measures.

Tuesday night, South Florida Congressman Ted Deutch, a Democrat, headlined a Coral Springs town hall on the subject of — what else? — gun violence.

More than six weeks after the Parkland shooting, the first week of April has been a busy one for the gun conversation.

It's a debate that's likely to continue to rage at least through April 20th, which will be the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. As they have in weeks past, students plan to walk out of class in observance.

Hours before Tuesday's town hall, several mayors from the surrounding area filed suit against the State of Florida over a 2011 law barring local leaders from passing any local laws that even remotely constitute gun restriction.

The day prior to Tuesday's town hall, kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of one of the deadliest school shootings since Columbine, had to start carrying see-through backpacks to school. This, despite the fact that shooter Nikolaus Cruz wasn't even a student there when he killed 17 on February 14th.

At the Tuesday town hall, Deutch thanked the Parkland students who have fought to keep the gun conversation going as long as it has — despite attempts from opponents to troll, discredit and even threaten them.

But he lamented the very pro-gun status quo among Florida lawmakers, who generally try to steer the conversation toward mental health... even if they aren't so keen on funding it.

“The fact that when our state is 51st in per-capita spending on mental health, coming in below the 50 states and the District of Columbia and just above Puerto Rico, that this is an issue that we need to grapple with all the time, but particularly at this moment,” Deutch said, according to News Service of Florida's Nathalie Sczublewski. “When the suggested ratio of school psychologists is one per 500 and in our area, it is one per 2,000, it shows that there is more that we have to do.”

Stoneman Douglas students expressed their own concerns about new security measures, including the clear backpacks.

“My peers are being treated like prisoners for a crime they didn’t commit,” said Samantha Fuentes, which sparked applause among town hall attendees, according to News Service of Florida. “How do we make sure our funds are being appropriated to the correct areas instead of things as useless as clear backpacks?”

Another student said her peers are suffering from depression stemming from the shooting, but are being told by teachers to “move on.”

It's likely the conversation on guns this week could amount to more than talk — and not just in motivating newly eligible voters to go to the polls in November.

The mayors' lawsuit could have significant impact if a judge strikes down the gun preemption.

Currently, if a mayor or city council wants to, say, ban guns from city parks or bar assault-style guns from the city, they risk a fine or even removal from office.

But if a judge's 2017 ruling that struck down a state law preempting cities from banning styrofoam is any indication, cities that want to pass gun safety measures (and opponents of preemption in general) may have some luck down the road.

"Florida's super-preemption penalties that punish local officials for protecting communities from gun violence have existed for long enough. These preemption laws are a violation of the Constitution, they have a chilling effect on local democracy, and they allow special interests to threaten and silence local voices," said Mike Alfano, head of the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, an anti-preemption group. "We look forward to supporting this case through forthcoming amicus curiae briefs with other state and national partners, and we thank these courageous local officials for standing up to these abuses of power."

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