After a month marked by two deadly mass shootings merely hours apart in El Paso and Dayton, Florida House Democrats have forced the state Legislature to vote on hosting a special session to address gun violence.
Forty-one state legislators submitted letters to Secretary of State Laurel Lee requesting the special session in an effort spearheaded by Coral Gables Rep. Javier Fernández. The domestic terrorism attack in Texas that claimed 22 lives was mentioned in the letter sent to Lee, as was the need to protect Florida's Hispanic and Latinx communities. Because more than a fifth of the Legislature submitted letters, state law requires both chambers to vote on the issue. However, a three-fifths majority is required to compel a special session.
"The people of Florida deserve better," Fernández said in a statement. "They deserve to live in cities free from the plague of daily gun violence. They deserve to attend gatherings, schools, and houses of worship without a looming fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. And they deserve a legislature who will do all it can to protect them. It's too late for those impacted by gun violence yesterday, but if we act quickly we can stem this tide and save lives."
If a majority is reached, the special session would consider gun safety proposals such as requiring background checks, prohibiting the sale of large-capacity magazines, and expanding the number of people who can petition the court for a risk protection order if a gun owner is a risk to themselves or others. It would also establish the Urban Core Gun Violence Task Force to reduce day-to-day violence in Florida.
After the Valentine's Day massacre in Parkland, the state passed a red-flag law — the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act — that gave police the right to take guns away from dangerous people.
"While we acknowledge the landmark school and gun safety legislation passed in 2018, there is much more Florida can do to reduce gun violence and meaningfully address white supremacy," says Gay Valimont, a volunteer leader with the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. "We support any and all efforts to quickly get state lawmakers around the table in Tallahassee to pass proven and popular policies, starting with background checks on all gun sales."
In the past five years, there have been at least 19,205 shooting incidents in Florida, according to the Gun Violence Archive's state data, accounting for 9,167 injuries and 5,214 deaths. More than 1,250 of the casualties have been children aged 17 or younger.