Florida Democrats say now is the time to enact gun safety measures to protect families and children from gun violence.
By themselves, the numbers are sobering. That is because on average, someone is killed with a gun every three hours in Florida. This equals 12.5 deaths per 100,000 residents, or 2,568 people a year. More alarmingly, guns are also the third-leading cause of death for Florida children ages 1–17, according to data provided by Giffords Law Center, an organization led by former Congress member Gabrielle Giffords, herself a survivor of gun violence, dedicated to promoting common-sense gun laws across the nation.
But the numbers alone don’t tell the story. For every single one represents a life tragically cut short, and the endless grief of the families and loved ones of those who fell victim to senseless gun violence.
“Words cannot describe my pain,” wrote on Instagram the brother of Martin Duque Anguiano, the 14-year-old victim of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that left 17 dead.
“There are always the memories of that moment where your life changed,” Ricardo Negrón-Almodóvar, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando that killed 49, told Floricua. “You were dancing, enjoying yourself, and suddenly you hear shots and screams, and you fear for your life. You never forget that.”
It is this pain, this inability to forget, that often rouses survivors like Negrón-Almodóvar, Florida state manager of All Voting Is Local, to become passionate advocates for gun safety laws needed in the state. Legislation like universal background checks on all firearm sales, assault weapon restrictions, a large capacity magazine ban, and strong concealed-carry laws, as well as the expansion of domestic violence firearm prohibitions to include dating partners, among other common-sense legislation that could keep guns from falling into the wrong hands.
‘More Guns Equal More Violence’
“When you have more guns in the streets, it results in more violence,” former Democratic US Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a longtime gun safety advocate, told Floricua.
This is backed up by a 2004 review by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center that found that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide both in the United States and across high-income countries. In fact, in homes, cities, states and regions in the US where there are more guns, both men and women are at a higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.
“I was having this conversation with the chief of the Miami police department, and the immediate reaction from [police officers] was, ‘No, we don’t want more people to carry guns in the street without a permit, without any training!’” Mucarsel-Powell added.
For this reason, the Giffords senior advisor says it pains her to hear politicians, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, claim that strong gun safety laws won’t help save lives. Data, Mucarsel-Powell says, shows the opposite: that states with strong gun laws are consistently safer and have less gun violence than states with weaker gun laws.
“I think it’s really important for voters to know that right now we have a governor that is not putting the safety of Floridians first, and a senator, Marco Rubio, who is choosing millions and millions of dollars from the National Rifle Association (NRA), instead of choosing to work to protect the lives of children in our community,” she said.
A community that, according to statistics, is more vulnerable. “[Gun violence] has a disproportionate impact on urban communities of color, like Blacks and Hispanics,” said Democratic Florida Rep. Carlos G. Smith, who for the fifth consecutive year refiled a proposal (HB 199) to ban large-capacity gun magazines and military-style firearms, including AR-15 models. However, at this time, the bill is indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration.
“We have to be able to enact common sense gun safety reforms and not do it in a reactive way,” Smith said. “We can’t wait for the next mass shooting or the next horrific headline to take action to protect Floridians from gun violence.”
Up to the Challenge
For this reason, a number of state Democrats are urgently calling for safer gun laws.
“One of the most common-sense things that we can do is ban assault weapons. It is hard for me to imagine why we already don’t do that,” said US Rep. Charlie Crist, who is running to unseat Gov. Ron DeSantis in November. Crist’s “Safer Florida for All” plan, which has been endorsed by Ban Assault Weapons NOW (BAWN), includes expanding background checks, preventing domestic abusers from access to firearms, ending the sale of high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, and funding locally driven violence prevention strategies.
Democratic State Sen. Annette Taddeo, who is also running against DeSantis, last year introduced legislation to allow municipalities to pass stricter gun regulations by undoing an existing state preemption law. But the bills didn’t pass. Taddeo, who if elected would become the first woman governor of Florida and the first Latina governor of the state, remains committed to passing safer gun laws.
For her part, South Florida advocate, policy maker, and small business owner Janelle Perez, who is running for state Senate, supports “a ban on military-style assault rifles, increased background checks for every gun sold in the state of Florida, and a ban on modifications that increase the rate of fire.”
“I know how frustrating it is to wait for lifesaving legislation to pass, and I’m sick of inaction while easily-fixed loopholes cause death and tragedy in our communities,” said US Rep. Val Demings, who is running against Rubio in November.
Demings, who served as the first Black woman police chief in Orlando, last year introduced the Protecting Our Communities Act—a package aimed at closing loopholes in America’s gun laws, preventing mass shootings, and protecting law enforcement officers and the public from high-powered, rapid-firing, and untraceable weapons.
For her, the time to take action is now.
“It’s time for Florida to be represented by people with the courage needed to take on the gun lobby and special interests, and I will never tire of fighting for the gun safety reforms we desperately need,” Demings said.