The names of victims, written outside the Pulse nightclub just after the 2016 massacre in Orlando, Credit: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images
A coalition created following the 2016 Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre is shifting gears to more directly fight for gun-safety legislation in Florida.
Newly formed Prevent Gun Violence Florida announced this week it will advocate for a state ban on semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, for starters.
State Rep. Carlos Guillermo-Smith, an Orlando Democrat, has reintroduced a bill for the 2022 legislative session (House Bill 199) to establish such a ban — as he has done every year since the Pulse massacre, in which 49 people were murdered by a lone gunman wielding high-capacity, assault-style firearms.
In 2018, a lone gunman with an assault-style weapon murdered 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland.
Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat from Broward County, which includes Parkland, is sponsoring the assault-weapons ban in the Senate (Senate Bill 214).
The Florida Legislature adopted some gun-safety provisions following the high-school massacre but not a ban on assault weapons, which was proposed by a citizens initiative as a constitutional amendment. The Florida Supreme Court quashed the effort in 2020, saying the language of the amendment was not clear enough.
Patricia Brigham, immediate past president of the League of Women Voters, will head the new organization, which filed this year as a 501(c)4 entity following the formation of its predecessor coalition in 2016, an offshoot of the League.
Andy Pelosi, executive director of the Campaign the Keep Guns Off Campus, will partner with Brigham and serve on the coalition’s board of directors.
Brigham and Pelosi said in a joint statement that the new organization will ramp up support for common-sense reforms to reduce gun violence in Florida — reforms that have largely been repelled by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
“As our state Legislature and Cabinet are dominated by one party, this change will allow us to participate more directly in the electoral process,” Brigham explained. “The best place to hold those lawmakers who value easy access to firearms over the lives of Floridians accountable is at the ballot box.”
Gail Schwartz, a board member whose nephew was killed that day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, accused legislative leaders of misleading Floridians about gun issues and supporting easier access to deadly firearms, not measures to reduce gun violence.
“They have consistently pushed dangerous and reckless bills allowing unfettered access and proliferation of deadly weapons that make Floridians less safe — as evidenced by the continuing surge of gun deaths that leave behind thousands of grieving and traumatized Floridians,” Schwartz said in the joint statement.
Others serving as board members for Prevent Gun Violence Florida include Angela Gallo, former Coalition co-chair and member of the Orange County School Board; and Carrie Boyd, policy director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The organization’s goals also include:
- Mandating universal background checks
- Keeping guns off college and university campuses
- Defeat of legislation to allow gun owners to openly carry firearms without securing a license (as proposed for 2022 in House Bill 103 by Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Lake County Republican, with the backing of the NRA and other gun-rights organizations)
- Expanded protections for victims of domestic gun violence.
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