By Hastings Wyman –
In 1212, in England and across much of France and Germany, thousands of children joined a crusade to reclaim Jerusalem from Muslim control. That venture ended in disaster, but the one just launched in Florida, and elsewhere across the nation, appears headed to success, in large part because of the efforts of the survivors of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
One Sunshine State GOP operative said, “If we didn’t have those kids, [the crowd at the march at the Capitol in Tallahassee] was a Clinton crowd, an Obama crowd. But those kids were stirring and compelling. The kids that held the press conference on the fourth floor of the Capitol were amazing.” He added that this time folks can’t just wait out the outrage, that some action is likely. “Everybody’s got a kid… This won’t re-align Florida, but Republican steps will have to be taken.”
Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida and a longtime observer of Florida politics, said, “There are lot of differences between Las Vegas and the Orlando nightclub shootings. These are children. When older people see young people at school literally having to crawl over the bodies of teachers and fellow students, they want to see action. Delay is no longer an option.”
Indeed, Republican Gov. Rick Scott jumped into action immediately following the massacre and has proposed a six-point plan designed to make schools safer. These include barring the sale of any firearm to a person under the age of 21; banning bump stocks; providing trained law enforcement officers at schools; and new procedures to keep guns out of the hands of people who are mentally ill or have a pattern of problematic behavior that makes them more likely to misuse guns. Moreover, Scott proposed major state funding to implement his proposals.
Republican leaders in both the state House and Senate have expressed support for the governor’s plan. The legislature is set to adjourn in two weeks. If there’s not enough time to enact appropriate laws, the governor may call a special session to focus on school safety.
The major proposal that runs afoul of the National Rifle Association (NRA) is raising the age limit for gun sales to 21, but in the current climate, NRA’s opposition is not proving the deterrent it has been at other times.
In the coming weeks and months, however, other stories will come to dominate the newspaper headlines and the cable news networks. This begs the question of whether public outrage over the tragedy will fade with time, allowing delays to quietly kill much of the governor’s legislative package.
When asked whether the current public outrage is just a flash in the pan, or whether it will force changes that would not have been made otherwise, political observers have differing opinions.
“It’s somewhere between ‘too soon to tell’ and ‘likely minimal action’,” opined the Republican operative. “They will probably do much more than what Republicans would normally do. But Florida is one of the most pro-gun states in the nation… It would be a cold day in hell” before they ban assault rifles.
“It’s probably too early to tell,” says Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy who has been polling Florida public opinion for several decades. “The initial reaction you are getting is that nobody’s digging in. Everybody’s keeping an open mind.” He added, “They probably will not propose gun control, but strengthened laws on who can buy a gun. You saw that a little bit with Trump.” Coker adds, “If [Scott] pushes it, it could pass. The question is whether these reforms, though not gun control, will satisfy voters… The anti-gun people are all out for this issue. Long term, this is one more issue that the Democrats will use to turn-out young voters,” says Coker.
“It is not a flash in the pan,” says MacManus. “Legislators, within a day of the march, were already repackaging bills… Republicans realize that they could lose some key races. Democrats see it as a way to turn out women voters.” MacManus adds, “Women are the key. Look how quickly Gov. Scott came out. And Rubio changed his mind… Republicans are already worried about the younger generation of voters and delay on this would push them more in the Democrats’ direction.”
President Trump’s comments on the Parkland shooting have mirrored Scott’s proposals significantly. “Trump is willing to push change on it,” says MacManus, “and has given down-ballot Republicans cover to change their position on this.”
So change is likely, not only in Florida but nationwide. As the 2018 election campaigns heat up, the Republicans will probably cite their actions as pragmatic responses to a difficult, multi-layered problem. Democrats are likely to call the GOP changes too little, too late, and will continue to push for gun control, with a ban on assault weapons as the first step. You can also expect Democrats to “shame” Republicans who accept NRA support. Stay tuned.