TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – Florida legislators are moving to officially condemn white nationalism, with Democrats and Republicans alike drafting resolutions against hate-spurred violence, but the unity could be short-lived as elected officials plunge into debates over how the government should intervene to prevent more mass killings and rein in white supremacists.
The condemnations come amid an outcry over a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in which authorities believe the gunman posted a racist screed online shortly before the attack.
Following the shooting, Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, a Republican, called the violence a “reminder that we have more work to do,” and he called on a legislative committee to review what can be done to address white nationalism.
Earlier this week, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a Democratic presidential hopeful, called for a federal “red flag” law that would allow law enforcement to take away guns from white nationalists, if a judge agrees if a person poses an imminent danger.
While Galvano says he’s open to possibly expanding the Florida’s “red flag” laws, he told the Associated Press on Thursday that the two issues should be addressed separately.
“Do both issues need to be considered and talked about? The answer is yes, but I don’t know if you can just merge them,” Galvano said.
Since Florida’s “red flag” law went into effect in March 2018, there have been 2,434 risk protection orders reported to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which prompted the agency to suspend 595 concealed weapons licenses. The protection orders give law enforcement the authority to temporarily confiscate guns.
Following the 2018 mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio called on Congress to follow his state’s lead in enacting a federal “red flag” law — a call that he again made following the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that killed 31 people.
In the wake of those shootings, Florida Republicans have focused their condemnation on hate groups and their attention on keeping guns away from those with mental illness.
A trio of Republican state senators began circulating a resolution on Thursday that rejects white nationalism as “hateful, dangerous and morally corrupt.”
That followed a move earlier in the week by Democrats in the Florida House, who introduced legislation spurning white supremacy as “hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of Florida and the United States.”
But while both parties were united in their condemnation of race-based hate, it remains to be seen what policy changes will be enacted.
“We can have lots of discussions about hate as it relates to white supremacy and white nationalism, but it does not get us to the solution of dealing with guns — and that’s the bottom line for any discussion that should be done,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, the Democratic leader in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
In a letter sent to Galvano on Wednesday, she said it was still too easy to access a gun in Florida.
Gun-control activists are trying to place a measure on the 2020 ballot that would ban assault weapons.
“Whether the massacre unfolded in El Paso, Dayton or Las Vegas, Newtown, Parkland or Pulse, the one inescapable common thread that has bound each and every one of these horrific mass shootings is the presence of an assault weapon,” Gibson said. She said the state could do better in controlling access to guns, strengthening background checks for private gun sales and expanding the state’s “red flag” laws to allow relatives, not just law enforcement, to seek a court order when they think a family member might pose a risk.
Galvano said “everything would be on the table” as his chamber begins work on strengthening laws to curb mass violence and to expand the laws enacted in response to the Parkland shootings. But when pressed, Galvano said he would leave it to legislative committees to come up with specific legislation.
“In the best-case scenario, the most effective way to begin to approach the state’s role in these things is to look comprehensively — everything from law enforcement and how we’re doing it, and policy changes in funding, mental health screenings, red flags and gun safety.”