A week after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, busloads of students traveled to Florida’s Capitol to support for a ban on assault weapons.
Florida lawmakers were unmoved. They didn’t vote. They wouldn’t even debate the bill.
Chances are, they assumed calls for change would soon fade, just as they did after Columbine and Sandy Hook and so many other massacres.
If so, they misinterpreted the moment and the students, whose resolve — and skillful use of social media — is fueling a national movement to demand action on gun violence.
If you doubt that, consider this: On Wednesday, less than a month after ignoring pleas for action from the Douglas High students and others, Florida lawmakers passed a gun-control measure for the first time in 30 years. Gov. Rick Scott signed it two days later.
The new law imposes a three-day waiting period and raises the minimum age for buying firearms from a licensed dealer to 21. Regrettably, the bill also authorizes some school personnel to carry firearms — a policy that could undermine rather than enhance safety on school campuses.
The measure is, as a Miami Herald editorial said, only baby steps.
It’s still a rare defeat for the National Rifle Association in what some call the “Gunshine State” because of its history of loosening restrictions on gun ownership.
That makes our day. But a bigger challenge lies ahead.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, has been trying to persuade Congress to close a gaping loophole in the federal law requiring background checks on gun sales since 2012, when a gunman slaughtered 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
His proposal doesn’t ban any firearms. It would help prevent gun purchases by those who aren’t allowed to possess guns — convicted felons, people with serious mental health disorders and people enjoined by court orders in domestic violence cases.
Background checks have been required for all sales by licensed firearms dealers since 1993. Here in California, they’re mandatory for all firearms sales and, beginning this year, on ammunition sales, too. But the federal law, which governs in many states, allows sales between private parties, sales at gun shows and internet sales without a background check. That’s insane.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 97 percent of Americans favor universal background checks, and Thompson now has 200 cosponsors — almost half of the House of Representatives — for legislation to close the loopholes and help states keep the national background check database up-to-date.
Yet more than five years after Sandy Hook, the House hasn’t voted on, or even debated, this modest proposal.
Thompson and his primary cosponsor, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York, are trying to force a vote by circulating a “discharge petition,” a parliamentary maneuver to move the bill to the House floor.
In an editorial one day after the Douglas High shooting, we expressed pessimism about changes beging made. Having seen the success of the surviving students in Florida, we think there’s reason to be hopeful.
Perhaps the effort will be boosted by two upcoming events inspired by those students — a 17-minute student walkout on Wednesday and the “March for our Lives” on Saturday in Washington and cities across the country, including Santa Rosa.