NRA’s La Pierre–Florida youth strike back. Photo: Gage Skidmore–Flickr
[Speaking Truth To Power]
Last Friday, there was a very positive development in the wake of the Valentine’s Day Massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, that ended the lives of 17 students and school personnel in Florida; new gun control legislation was passed by Florida legislators.
It was the first time in over 20 years that Florida passed new gun control legislation, and by a Republican-controlled legislature. The measure was signed into law by the state’s Republican Governor Rick Scott.
The lesson here is: any obstacle—even those erected by politically powerful and wealthy organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA), and their death merchants—can be defeated with determined activism, especially, if it is spear-headed by youth and strong sustained protests. The Marjory Stoneman students have won the first round in this fight against the NRA and those who oppose sensible gun laws. The broader battle will be a longer one.
Indeed this law is only a start; it’s by no means a perfect bill. Still, how many of us expected anything of substance to be done after this Florida shooting, which is just one of many mass shootings that occurs with regularity in America?
Friday, Governor Scott signed Senate Bill 7026 into law, making it the first gun-control measure enacted after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, on February 14. The law, known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, has several noteworthy provisions.
For one thing, it bans the sale or possession of bump fire stocks, which when attached to semi-automatic weapons alters their capability by allowing them to fire more bullets faster. The new legislation now permits law enforcement to seize weaponry from those deemed mentally unfit. It also introduces a three-day waiting period on all gun sales.
However, the most common-sense part of the legislation has already provoked legal action by the NRA. The law has raised the legal age for buying guns from 18 to 21. A violation of this part of the law is punishable by $5,000 and five years in prison.
In the aftermath of this school shooting many have, rightly, asked: why should an 18-year old—who wouldn’t be able to buy beer or cigarettes—be able to purchase firearms? This age-requirement part of the law apparently exempts those who work as law enforcement officers and security personnel.
Many politicians, primarily Democrats, seem to agree the age of purchasing firearms should be raised to 21. Yet, this raises another troubling question that should be pondered here, which is: if it’s now wrong to sell guns to those under the age of 21, is it not also wrong to send them to war to kill people “over there”? This is a conversation for another column.
Not surprisingly, the NRA filed a lawsuit against the State of Florida only one hour after the bill was signed into law. Named in the suit were Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen. Interestingly enough, Governor Scott, who is known to have an A rating from the NRA, isn’t named in the lawsuit.
“This bill punishes law-abiding gun owners for the criminal acts of a deranged individual,” executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, Chris W. Cox said. “Securing our schools and protecting the constitutional rights of Americans are not mutually exclusive.”
“We filed a lawsuit against the state for violating the constitutional rights of 18- to 21-year-olds,” said Marion Hammer, lobbyist for the NRA in Florida. Governor Scott made it clear he is still an NRA supporter.
“I’m an NRA member, and I was an NRA member when I became governor. I’m going to be an NRA member when I’m not governor,” Scott said. “I’m sure there are NRA members that agree with this bill, some that don’t agree with this bill.”
The NRA suit alleges the new law violates the Second Amendment; and the 14 Amendment’s equal protection clause. It is an outrageous travesty that the NRA would use the 14 Amendment—which was adopted to confer citizenship and equal protection rights to former African Slaves—to argue for their selling of guns to kids.
While it is obvious the NRA would use the Second Amendment in this lawsuit, Black Americans should be clear on this historical fact: The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the institution of Slavery and perpetuate Black oppression and exploitation in America.
The first tool of perverse power the Founding Fathers gave to White Americans was fictitious indoctrination about the, supposed, supremacy of White skin. This is a truly laughable notion. Why then doesn’t sunlight—which doesn’t seem to have a problem with Black skin—recognize White skin as superior?
The second instrument of deadly power given by wealthy White Slave-owners to everyday Whites was access to guns—contingent upon their stipulated participation in “State Militias,” which is stated in the Second Amendment—to impose their “superiority” over Black Slaves. Today’s police, as the primary inheritors of this political militia mechanism, use their gun power and “license to kill” with daily deadly consequences in Black America. Invariably, the mantra that follows these unlawful killings are that there are “a few bad apples” on the police force.
The most controversial part of this new Florida law allows schools, if they wish, to participate in what is called a “school guardianship” program that trains—and arms school employees. Governor Scott has said he is against arming teachers. However, as some observers have noted, under Florida law, the governor could’ve removed the “school guardianship” program from the law. Many have rightly decried arming teachers.
President Trump has talked disparagingly about schools being “gun-free zones.” Trump, and others, push the argument that arming teachers will decrease school shootings, and minimize the awful outcomes. This is not only an unfounded assumption but is also truly dangerous. Many unintended consequences will likely occur. For example, in a circumstance where a teacher is exchanging gunfire with an assailant, how will anyone—including police—know who the attacker is?
We should remember the ironic words of NRA CEO Wayne La Pierre from back in 1999. Ten days after the April 20, 1999, Columbine School Shooting when gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold took the lives of 12 students and one teachers, La Pierre said this: “We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America’s schools. Period.” Apparently, La Pierre has had a change of heart—or, maybe the change is in his bulging bank account.
It has also been importantly noted that this Florida bill does nothing to stop the sale of semi-automatic weapons, like the ones Nikolas Cruz used in his murderous rampage. The battle to ban assault weapons will not be easy to win. Much money is involved here, especially given the link between gun manufacturers and the war profiteers in the military industrial complex.
In 1994, Congress passed a federal assault weapons ban, under the broader Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, but the ban expired in 2004. After Sandy Hook, California Senator Dianne Feinstein tried to reintroduce a similar ban. Her attempts and those of other senators and representatives have failed as the NRA has flexed their lobbying power and spread their corrupt cash around Congress.
Not surprisingly, while the Marjory Stoneman students have forced Florida legislators to act, Capitol Hill remains silent. It will take more than marches to move this current Republican-control Congress to act.
Some of them will have to be thrown out office. This year’s November election will be the most important mid-term election in a lifetime.