Mass shootings in America have become so commonplace that gun violence did not feature during the two recent Democratic presidential debates. But whenever such tragedies strike, as happened last week in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, they become the flavor of the day, though they should not be unexpected, given the level of divisiveness in the country created and stoked by President Donald Trump’s racist immigration policy and inflammatory remarks about non-whites.
The latest massacres came as a Florida official seeks to frustrate a citizen initiative to ban assault weapons and a judge has struck down the Legislature’s draconian law criminalizing any action by local authorities to regulate gun ownership.
The slaughter has been ongoing long before Trump. Nationally, more than 33,000 people were killed by guns in 2015, at a rate 25 times higher than in 22 other rich countries, even though the U.S. has only half their combined populations. More than 80 percent of all gun deaths in the 23 countries took place in the U.S., including 90 percent of women killed by guns, 91 percent of children under 14 and 92 percent of those aged 15 to 24, according to Wikipedia.
Florida ranks 26th for gun deaths, with 12.6 per 100,000 people, according to USA Today. The Sun Sentinel reported that 1,284 children and teenagers were killed in the state between 2006 and 2916, 43 percent of them in South Florida. Two-thirds of them were African Americans, who, in MiamiDade County, are more than 10 times as likely as white children to be shot dead. In Miami-Dade, 343 children were killed by guns – the highest in the state — followed by Palm Beach with 124 and Broward, 86, whose ratios are four and five times as likely. Overall, African American children are killed by guns seven times more than whites.
A correlation likely exists between the number of guns and the number of gun-related deaths. In the U.S., which leads the world in gun fatalities, private citizens own an estimated 400 million firearms, including probably 10 million assault weapons. In Florida, sometimes ridiculed as the “Gunshine State,” private citizens own at least two million guns, of whom around 1.8 million have conceal-carry permits. But Florida gun ownership is probably much higher; there is no way to track the numbers.
Pro-gun advocates argue that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” a slogan which originated with gun manufacturers, on gun safety particularly Colt, probably 75 years ago.
That argument has informed the gun debate, buttressed by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gun ownership is a constitutional right.
Opponents of unregulated gun ownership have been insisting that gun violence would be lessened if there is at least some regulation. But the National Rifle Association (NRA), sometimes deemed the mouthpiece of the gun manufacturers, insists that any effort at regulation will lead to an eventual ban on gun ownership. The NRA stranglehold on the issue resulted in Florida and 44 other states passing “pre-emption” laws which prohibit local regulation – not banning – of guns. So, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, for example, are not allowed to pass laws which could, for example, reduce the number of children killed by guns. Only five states allow for regulation — Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York – and the Thrace news site says those states also have the lowest rates of firearms fatalities.
Florida’s pre-emption law was enacted in 1987 when Democrats controlled the Legislature but Republicans went further, passing another measure in 2011 which also empowers the state to fine local elected officials – the first in the nation — up to $5,000 for violating the statute , as well as subjecting them to being removed from office and making them liable for damages of up to $100,000 and attorney fees.
More than 30 local authorities, including Miami-Dade and Broward counties, sued the state over that law and, in July, Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled the measure unconstitutional. Dodson did not invalidate the 1987 pre-emption law but, even so, Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody promptly filed notice of appeal.
Moody has also sued to block a proposed constitutional amendment to ban assault weapons which has secured the required 103,000 signatures, claiming the title and ballot language are too vague. The attorney general could have tried to point out that, while assault weapons kill many people in single incidents, gun suicides are responsible for most firearms deaths. Nationally, of the more than 30,000 people who died from gunfire, 20,000 killed themselves.
A majority of Floridians support regulating gun ownership, including a ban on assault weapons.
Citing a Quinnipiac University Poll, The Sun Sentinel put the figure at 59 percent, with 39 percent opposed.
Some 72 percent want state action on gun violence and 55 percent say more people carrying guns will not make Florida safer.
Especially in view of the El Paso and Dayton massacres, the attorney general would do a great service if she ends her opposition to gun safety measures. But the Legislature refused to do so even after the slaughter of the innocents at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and the Pulse restaurant and Moody is holding her ground, which is no big surprise.