Other View: Florida found common ground on guns; the US can, too
From the editorial: "Even more modest steps can help, as Florida showed in the aftermath of its own tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland four years ago."
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators met this week on Zoom to continue exploring a compromise on gun safety legislation, just as more families in Uvalde, Texas, held funerals for some of 19 children and two teachers slaughtered there at an elementary school. Few of us are naive enough to think that Congress will finally break from the gun lobby and embrace landmark reforms like banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
But even more modest steps can help, as Florida showed in the aftermath of its own tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland four years ago.
Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty in October to murdering 17 and wounding 17 others at the high school on Feb. 14, 2018. While a jury is being selected to decide whether Cruz, now 23, is sentenced to death or life in prison, Florida lawmakers didn't wait to adopt wide-ranging reforms Republicans supported and then-Gov. Rick Scott signed into law.
The legislation banned weapons sales to those younger than 21, imposed a three-day waiting period on most long-gun purchases, and created a "red flag" law that allows authorities to temporarily confiscate weapons from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others. Lawmakers dedicated $400 million for mental health and school-security programs and set aside $97.5 million in recurring funding for more school resource officers.
The bill mandated more frequent active-shooter drills, and school districts hardened their campuses to improve security. Another controversial provision allowed some school professionals to volunteer as armed campus "guardians." Signed into law only weeks after the Parkland shooting, the legislation shows what can be accomplished when lawmakers on both sides focus on solutions instead of scoring political points.
"Red flag" laws are critical tools for buying time for those in a crisis. Florida is among 18 states that have risk-protection orders, and states like Florida and California — which have used them thousands of times — have treated them as essential methods for protecting public safety. The law could be improved by giving regular citizens the power to bring forward petitions. Family members and friends, after all, are often the first to spot a loved one in trouble. But this is a simple strategy to apply nationwide.
Aside from incentivizing states to adopt red-flag laws, the bipartisan Senate group is examining ways to expand background checks for firearms sales. Those checks should be expanded to include firearms bought through private and online transactions. States should also toughen penalties against owners who leave firearms unsecured in unlocked vehicles, a key pipeline for gun theft and violence across America.
In addition, states need to expand ready access to mental health counseling. Timing is key. States and the federal government can build on what works instead of holding out for the impossible.
Americans are rightly frustrated with Congress over gun-safety laws, but resignation is not a strategy. Majorities in both parties favor expanded background checks and preventing those with mental illnesses from purchasing guns. Congress and the states need to strike where common ground exists. That's the first step in keeping more schools and groceries from becoming killing fields.
— Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board