Florida shooting: Why there is eventually likely to be less, not more gun control in the US state

After the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida, the state rejected all attempts at gun control, but in 2017 it delighted the NRA by making it easier to justify using firearms under the controversial Stand Your Ground law 

Adam Lusher
Friday 16 February 2018 14:01
Emotional mum makes passionate plea to America on gun laws after Florida school shooting

After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting there will eventually be less, not more gun control in Florida, past experience would suggest.

Wednesday’s mass shooting, which left 17 adults and children dead, has led to renewed calls for stiffer gun laws, with the distraught mother of one pupil demanding: “We can’t let this go on. No more of our children can die.”

But recent experience in Republican-controlled Florida would suggest that after a mass shooting, there is eventually less, not more gun control in the state.

After 49 people were killed by gunman Omar Mateen at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in February 2016 there were repeated attempts to get new gun control laws through the Florida legislature, and every attempt failed.

A year after the Pulse nightclub shooting, Florida Democrats admitted to The Independent that they had failed to enact a single gun control measure.

State Senator Linda Stewart, who tried to introduce a ban on AR-15-style assault rifles of the kind used in the Pulse and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, said her measure was “dead before it was even introduced.”

Neither Florida state chamber even allowed her proposed assault weapons ban to have an open hearing for discussion.

When Ms Stewart tried to urge her colleagues to allow discussion on her bill, she said, she was met with blank stares.

Gun control advocates did try to claim partial victory on the grounds that attempts to allow guns in airports, on college campuses, in government meetings and allowing for more open carrying of guns in Florida also failed during the 12 months following the Pulse shooting.

But these measures all got further through the legislative process than the gun control proposals, and in May 2017 the powerful lobbyist Marion Hammer, a former president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), emailed supporters to say: “The ‘victories’ claimed by . . . anti-gun groups will be short lived because bills to restore Second Amendment rights to law-abiding people will be back ... until they pass.”

The accuracy of this prediction seemed to be borne out by the fact that a month later a new measure was passed into law making it easier to use Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law.

Promoted by the NRA and originally passed in 2005, this law allows someone to use deadly force if they believe their life is in danger, without having a legal duty to try to retreat from the threat.

It is thought to have played a part in helping George Zimmerman get off a murder charge after shooting dead black teenager Trayvon Martin in February 2012, in an incident that sparked the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The 2017 amendment to the Stand Your Ground law was characterised by Democrats as a “shoot-to-kill” and a “how-to-get-away-with-murder” bill, but it was heavily supported by the NRA.

It shifted the burden of proof so that instead of the defendant having to prove they were acting in self-defence, the prosecution now had to produce “clear and convincing evidence” that the accused had not been motivated by self-preservation.

When Florida governor Rick Scott signed the amendment into law on June 9, it continued his track record of supporting pro-gun measures.

Mr Scott, a Republican, has received A+ ratings from the National Rifle Association, and in 2014 Ms Hammer singled him out for praise, emailing Florida NRA supporters to tell them: “Governor Rick Scott has now signed more pro-gun bills into law -- in one term -- than any other Governor in Florida history.”

After the Pulse shooting, Mr Scott repeatedly defended the Second Amendment right to bear arms, telling CNN: “Let’s remember, the Second Amendment has been around for over 200 years. That’s not what killed innocent people; evil killed innocent people.”

After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Mr Scott also appears to have deflected calls for tighter gun controls, suggesting on Wednesday that it was not the time to discuss such matters.

Expectation that Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature will block gun control but eventually allow pro-firearms legislation were heightened by the way state senator Marco Rubio tweeted sympathy on Wednesday, and on Thursday said gun controls wouldn’t have stopped the tragedy.

Mr Rubio, a Republican presidential primary candidate defeated by Donald Trump, told the US Senate that most previous gun control proposals “would not have prevented, not just yesterday's tragedy, but any of those in recent history."

He added: “It is a tough issue … It isn’t fair or right to create this impression that somehow this attack happened because there is some law out there that we could have passed to prevent it.”

The Florida senator is reported to have received an A+ rating from the NRA during his 2016 US senate re-election campaign, and $90,205 (£64,145) in donations from the pro-guns organisation during the 2015-16 campaign cycle.

He is also thought to have received $3.3m (£2.3m) in donations from the NRA over the course of his career as an elected official.

What happens in Florida may be broadly similar to what happens in other US states.

A 2016 Harvard Business School study of responses to mass shootings throughout the US found that on average, in the year after a mass shooting in a Republican-controlled state, the number of enacted laws that loosened gun restrictions increased by 75 per cent.

The researchers found that after mass shootings in Democrat-controlled states, there tended to be no significant increase in laws being successfully passed to tighten gun control.

“This,” the researchers said, “Is consistent with evidence suggesting that even when a majority supports a gun control proposal, those opposed to increased gun control are more likely to take actions like writing a letter or donating money to support their side.”

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