Florida Gov. Rick Scott signs the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act in the governor’s office at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., Friday, March 9, 2018. Scott is flanked by victims’ parents Gena Hoyer, left, Ryan Petty, second from left, Andrew Pollack, right, and his son Hunter Pollack, second from right. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
The gun violence debate connected to the school shooting in Florida has turned into an excellent example of why what attracts the mainstream media’s focus is often not the full story.
The media has been lavishing attention on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who support gun control, but in the meantime, the families of the victims of last month’s shooting have been working with diligence and unity to support legislative reforms.
Despite the much lesser media spotlight, their efforts have been paying off: a bill passed in Florida, and they have high hopes for similar success at the federal level.
The Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), and funds the creation of Threat Assessment Teams (TATs) to train students, teachers, and other school staff to properly identify and respond to threats against schools.
Additional funding is allocated for increased school security measures and creation of anonymous reporting systems.
The victims’ families are united in their support for this legislation. They released a letter they sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), voicing their support for the STOP School Violence Act, as well the Fix NICS Act, which would address failings in the national firearms purchasing background check system, such as the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
There, the gunman was able to purchase weapons despite having been dishonorably discharged from the military and having a past history of domestic violence and child abuse, because this information was not properly entered into the system.
“We must be the last families to suffer the loss of a loved one due to a mass shooting at a school,” concludes the families’ letter. “We demand more action to keep our schools safe.”
The letter is signed by family members representing thirteen of the seventeen people killed at Stoneman Douglas High, but as Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was among those killed, told me earlier tonight, the sentiments expressed in the letter do reflect the wishes of all seventeen families.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, center, puts his arm around Patrick Petty, 17, from Parkland, Fla., during a news conference with Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., left, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., right, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
As Petty explained, all seventeen families signed a similar letter and voiced their support regarding Florida’s Senate Bill 7026, which contained several provisions to which some of them objected, like the school marshal program.
Still, these seventeen families felt that the overall bill would have a positive impact, and were united in their support for it. Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) signed the bill into law earlier this month.
Logically, then, since the provisions that caused some concern in the Florida legislation are not present in the federal legislation, it is fair to say the families are still united in their support.
Just like the pro-gun control students whose activism has been praised because they’re “just students,” Petty further clarified that the few missing names were at least partly due to the fact that they are “just people, just parents” trying to go about their normal lives, as they continue to go to work and send children to school, all the while grieving their lost loved ones.
Once again, the families of the victims of the senseless violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School unite in support of legislation to improve school safety and ensure this time will be different! https://t.co/Zus3junIao
— Ryan Petty (@rpetty) March 19, 2018
“Building on the success and progress we made in Florida,” said Petty, “we’ve come together again as families building on common ground, in a bipartisan way,” praising the bill for how it “takes some of the best ideas from the Florida bill and brings them to the national level.”
This created some additional time pressure because the families wanted to release their letter in time to encourage a quicker passage of the bill through the Senate: there is a possibility the bill could be passed as early as this week, if it is included in the omnibus spending bill.
Working to add #StopSchoolViolenceAct in the so called “omnibus” bill. If it is, we could see passage of this important law before the week is over. Thank you to everyone who is calling your Senators & members of congress asking that it be included. It’s making a real difference
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 20, 2018
Adding to the bipartisan support behind this legislation: the group Sandy Hook Promise, representing the parents of the children killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, had been working on a similar proposal before the shooting in Parkland.
The events in Florida became the impetus to push a bill forward more quickly. Petty credited the group specifically with contributing ideas regarding successful methods of threat assessment.
Sandy Hook Promise came out strong in support of the STOP School Violence Act, issuing a statement explaining the bill and urging their supporters to call their Senators and ask them to vote for it.
Jeff Kasky, father of Stoneman Douglas student Cameron Kasky, dismissed the bill as a “hot steaming pile of NRA crap,” but the suggestion that Sandy Hook Promise is being manipulated in any way by the NRA is completely laughable.
— Jeff Kasky (@JeffKasky) March 19, 2018
Naysayers like Kasky aside, Petty is optimistic about the bill, calling it “a strong first step,” and giving a lot of credit to the aforementioned bipartisan supporters. He was up in Washington last week to visit with Senators from both parties to discuss the bill, and two other Parkland families have meetings set up this week.
Kyle Kashuv, a Stoneman Douglas student who has stood out for his conservative support for Second Amendment rights, also went to D.C. earlier this month and met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers like Rubio, Hatch, and Schumer, and even President Donald Trump, to urge support for this legislation.
Earlier today, the Broward County Commission, encouraged by the families’ letter of support, unanimously passed a resolution supporting the bill.
“No wonder [this bill] is moving forward,” said Petty about these bipartisan discussions, mentioning the 407-10 House vote.
“You can spend your time arguing your point or you can sit down across the table from your representatives, bring your ideas, have a discussion, change minds, and get things done,” he continued.
“I’m so proud of the familes. We’ve gotten a lot accomplished. And we’re going to get this done too.”
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.
[Cross-posted at The Capitolist.]