Florida is proof lawmakers can act after school shooting

Once again, a town most of us have never heard of will forever be etched in our hearts – Uvalde. Once again, families are broken, a city is in mourning and a nation is shaken by grief. Again, a collective fear that nothing will change.

America, the most prosperous country on the planet, need not be the only industrialized nation where this is happening – cries of “do something” from weary Americans need not be in vain. There is another way. Florida is the model.

The bill passed by the Florida legislature in 2018, just weeks after the Parkland tragedy, wasn’t perfect. It didn’t solve all the problems and didn’t satisfy everyone. The majority that voted for him had real qualms with individual parts of it. Many Republicans who voted “yes” did not support increased gun control measures in the law. Many Democrats who voted “yes” worried about giving school districts the ability to arm school staff.

But the choice was compromised, or nothing.

Fortunately, enough policy makers have found a way to yes. As Congress conducts its own negotiations over a response to Uvalde, we think there are a few lessons from Florida that could be instructive:

  • Time matters. The Florida Legislature was in session during the Parkland Massacre, creating both the opportunity and the pressure to act. The longer Congress waits to act, the more likely we are to miss the window. Getting lawmakers to witness first-hand the carnage and destruction of this school was essential – seeing it on television is not enough.
  • Take a new path. Florida’s bill was the art of the possible, not the art of the perfect. The legislation dramatically increased funding for school safety, created red flag policies, improved mental health guidance and gave local school boards the ability to decide whether or not to allow limited numbers of school staff. trained to be armed on campus. The bill also tackled firearms by raising the minimum age to buy to 21, instituting a three-day waiting period for background checks and banning bump stocks. It was a real compromise.
  • Bipartisanship paved the way. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act was the collective work of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Republican leaders in the Legislature, and Democratic lawmakers who represented the districts where the massacre took place. No partisan package could pass – getting to yes required true bipartisan cooperation.
  • Advocates – namely parents – have joined hands in support of the bill. The art of politics is giving people the space to join your coalition – or in this case, cutting off the space for someone to oppose it. The parents understood that if any of them spoke out against the reforms, this singular act could derail the bill by providing fuel to opponents. Despite their own internal political differences, days after burying their own children, they presented a united front.

Supporters on both sides of the debate thought the bill went too far or not far enough — and those positions pushed the opposition. But when it came time to vote, enough Republicans and Democrats put aside their personal opposition to elements of the bill to do something more predicted would not happen.

Despite all the ranting about the politics of an issue, not a single Democrat or Republican who voted yes in Florida lost because of their vote. No Republican lost for voting for the gun provisions. No Democrat lost for allowing school districts to arm school staff.

While we recognize it won’t be easy, there is a way forward in Washington, if the courage exists to find an answer.

Today, several bills are currently being introduced in Congress – by members from both sides of the aisle – that together could form the basis of a package that would both keep our schools safe, keep guns out of the hands of those who would do harm, take meaningful steps to toughen up schools and increase mental health counseling. Many of these proposals come directly from Florida law.

The wounds of a school shooting are never at surface level; these wounds permeate all levels of our collective consciousness. Healing these wounds and finding a solution takes time, patience and above all: bipartisanship.

But that’s only going to happen if Republicans and Democrats step back from their own talking points and find a solution that neither side really likes — but can actually pass. Reforms in Florida are a roadmap, but now is the time to act: the window to do something will close quickly.

And unfortunately, if nothing is done, we all know what will follow.

Jared Rosenstein was the legislative aide to then-Democratic state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, whose district represented Parkland, Florida, and who was a key driver behind the passage of the Marjory Stoneman Act Douglas.

Steve Schale is a Democratic strategist in Florida who worked with parents of victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre on passing school safety legislation.

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