Inside the 23rd Congressional District (FL) Gun Violence Task Force: Real-Time Crisis Policymaking in the Wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Shootings

By Brezenski, Thomas F. | Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, Spring/Summer 2018 | Go to article overview

Inside the 23rd Congressional District (FL) Gun Violence Task Force: Real-Time Crisis Policymaking in the Wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Shootings


Brezenski, Thomas F., Journal of Multidisciplinary Research


Introduction

It was being called the Valentine's Day Massacre. Seventeen dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, from a lone gunman with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in a little over six minutes. The AR-15, a close civilian relative of the military M-16, is one of the U.S.'s most common and popular rifles due to its adaptability (allowing for accessories such as scopes and custom sights) and its capacity to discharge 30 rounds in a minute or less, with larger capacity magazines for it readily available that hold up to 100 rounds (Jones, 2013). There is no way to know exactly how many AR-15's are in circulation, but the numbers are estimated to be close to 15 million (Schuppe, 2017). The gunman was taken alive, a rare event in mass shootings, especially when the shooter is suspected to have severe mental health issues. Most, like Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, commit suicide after the act or die in a futile shootout with police known as 'suicide by cop.' Also, unlike Sandy Hook, the survivors were angry, articulate, and vocal. They took to multiple social media platforms, especially Twitter, to express their fury, horror, and profound loss. The #NeverAgain movement took root and soon Emma Gonzalez, who so eloquently representing the students' position on a CNN Town Hall meeting eight days after the shooting, quickly had more followers on Twitter than the entire National Rifle Association (NRA). There were relentless calls for bans on all assault weapons, and the AR-15 was held up as the prime example. The Parkland teens repeatedly and boldly attacked the before seemingly invulnerable NRA, even lampooning its national spokeswoman Dana Loesch. The nascent anti-gun sentiment had taken on a life of its own and was a becoming a political steamroller. Still, the formidable NRA chief lobbyist in Florida, Marion Hammer, was in Tallahassee, awaiting the Parkland survivors.

On Tuesday, February 20, 2018, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School gathered at the state Capitol to hopefully witness an historic vote by the Florida legislature banning assault-style weapons within the state. The Republican controlled legislature, heavily influenced by Ms. Hammer, voted 71-36 to not consider a ban on assault-style weapons. This outraged the students, their parents, and the general public and set into motion a gun control grass roots movement the likes of which not seen since 1974 (Frattoroli, 2003). At the same time, Florida Governor Rick Scott, a potential aspiring Senatorial candidate, convened his own 'working groups' on the shootings divided neatly into sub-groups to tackle issues of school safety, mental health, and gun violence in schools. This author called the governor's office to offer his service on the committees but was declined, albeit three weeks later. What was unusual about the work groups is that no mental health experts were in the group that was working with firearms; they were all clustered in the 'safe school' working group. There was also a complete absence of any public policy experts on mental health and firearms policy on the 'shootings' panel or anywhere else. It seemed abundantly clear that the governor had no desire for anyone form the 'ivory tower' to come up with something that might anger Ms. Hammer, a very important potential ally in his political future.

When the Parkland tragedy first occurred, I was working on research dealing with gun violence and the mentally ill. I had data and findings that were germane to any policy making discussions that might be going on in Tallahassee and Washington. My thoughts immediately turned to the behavior of some doctors in the 1980's during the AIDS epidemic. Rather than share their potentially life-extending or life-saving findings, they held onto them and waited for peer review and publication. Chronicled by Randy Shilts in his seminal work on AIDS in the U.S., And The Band Played On (1988), the physicians were more concerned with promotions and professional accolades than with the AIDS patients. …

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