Critics say the deadly tragedy is the result of DeSantis’ refusal to condemn hateful ideologies, his fight against what he calls the “woke” agenda, and a disregard for common-sense gun safety laws.
At 1:08 p.m. on Saturday in a Dollar General parking lot in Jacksonville, a gunman with a swastika-emblazoned AR-15-style rifle and a handgun shot into a black automobile and killed Angela Michelle Carr, 52.
Twenty-one-year-old Ryan Christopher Palmeter then entered the store and fatally shot Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., 19, and Jerrald Gallion, 29. As police arrived at the scene, Palmeter fatally shot himself.
Authorities say the shooter left behind white supremacist ramblings that read like “the diary of a madman.” And yet, despite a past involuntary commitment for a mental health exam, Palmeter was able to purchase both weapons legally.
A Growing Tension
This tragedy stands at the crossroads of two hot-button issues for Floridians: gun safety and race. That growing tension came to a boil on Sunday when, following services earlier in the day, more than 200 people loudly booed Gov. Ron DeSantis as he took the stage to speak at an evening vigil held a block from the Dollar General.
Many chanted “Do your job!” and loudly booed the Republican governor.
After Ju’Coby Pittman, a city councilwoman for Jacksonville, instructed the crowd to listen to DeSantis, the governor promised that “we are not going to let people be targeted based on their race.”
A Dog Whistle for Racists
But those words rang hollow for Florida state Rep. Angie Nixon, who told MSNBC that DeSantis’ anti-“woke” policies are “nothing more than a dog whistle to get folks up and riled up in the way in which it just happened yesterday.”
These policies include DeSantis’ Stop WOKE Act—which has dramatically restricted how teachers can talk about racism, slavery, and US history in the classroom—as well as new academic standards for Black history that require educators to teach students that slaves developed skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit.”
Extremists have been responding to those dog whistles in increasingly public fashion during DeSantis’ tenure as governor.
Last year, a group holding Nazi flags and posters with anti-Semitic imagery demonstrated outside a conservative student conference held at the Tampa Convention Center. The year before that, neo-Nazi protesters also flew flags that read “DeSantis Country.” In both instances, DeSantis did not immediately condemn their presence. When he finally addressed it, he said his political opponents were trying to “smear me as if I had something to do with it.”
Easy Access to Guns
DeSantis’ record on guns has also come under scrutiny in the aftermath of the Jacksonville shooting. The governor signed a law earlier this year that now allows anyone who can legally own a gun in Florida to carry a concealed weapon in public without training or a background check.
“It’s really scary to think that [DeSantis] who, by the way, was in the military, thinks this way,” Sen. Victor Torres told Floricua earlier this year. “You’re not protecting people, what you’re doing is putting people into harm’s way.
Florida Republicans also rejected federal funding for gun violence prevention that could have been used to support potentially life-saving programs like the “red flag laws,” which remove guns from individuals who are at risk of harming themselves or others. Florida was one of just six states to opt out of the application process, turning down as much as $15 million in federal funds. Since 2018, Florida’s “red flag” law has been used 9,000 times, and this funding would reimburse expenses incurred from its use.
Democrat Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost (FL-10), himself a survivor of gun violence, responded to the Jacksonville shooting with a call for lawmakers to take greater action on gun violence.
“We cannot let our communities become numb to this pain and accept this as normal,” Frost said. “When will the daily carnage of our people be enough to inspire action from politicians who value gun sales over our lives?”
RELATED: Una Dura Realidad: Gun Violence Disproportionally Affects Black and Latino Communities. Here’s What Needs to Be Done.
An Explosive Mix
Saturday’s tragedy, critics like Frost and Nixon say, is the result of DeSantis’ refusal to condemn hateful ideologies, his fight against what he calls the “woke” agenda that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, and a disregard for gun safety laws.
It is why Nixon says that “the governor has blood on his hands […] we [Nixon and other Black representatives] have repeatedly told him what his rhetoric was going to do and that is exactly what has transpired on yesterday.”
Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones agreed in a statement sent to the media.
“Whether they admit it or not, Florida Republicans have blood on their hands today because it is their white nationalist rhetoric and weakened gun laws that breed acts like this.” He added: “We must disarm the hate and violence that have become all too commonplace if we have any hope of moving forward.”