Parkland shooting echoes in this year’s political conventions

Two fathers who lost daughters in a mass shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School over two years ago each played opening night roles at the Republican and Democratic national conventions. 

Andrew Pollack, who spoke at the GOP convention, and Fred Guttenberg, who spoke at the Democratic one, gave their own takes on gun violence and its prevention. 

And although bonded by the second worst public school mass shooting in U.S. history, the two delivered very different messages.  

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One supports President Donald Trump and the Second Amendment as a way to protect home and family. The other backs former Vice President Joe Biden to take on the NRA and restore “our freedom to live without fear.” 

Outside political groups that either back gun rights or support gun control found their remarks to be filled with election-year hyperbole, misleading and off-target. 

In Monday’s appearance, Pollack criticized the media for turning his daughter’s murder into “a coordinated attack on President Trump, Republicans and our Second Amendment.” Pollack also has told interviewers he believes the Democrats have a plan to attack the Second Amendment. 

Meantime, Guttenberg announced the Florida delegation vote with a personal endorsement of Biden because Biden supports what he calls “gun safety legislation.” 

Guttenberg said any talk about attacks on the Second Amendment is “just a lot of B.S.” 

Dudley Brown, president of the National Association of Gun Rights, laughs when the remarks are repeated to him because he said both candidates are weak on Second Amendment rights and talk a lot of “B.S.” 

“I don’t watch the conventions … don’t have the stomach for it,” said Brown, who served as a Ted Cruz delegate to the 2016 GOP Convention and as an unpledged delegate in 2012. 

“When I was a delegate I didn’t listen to the speakers – it’s just, ya know, window dressing. What happens behind the scenes, what they put in the platform, that is much more telling,” said Brown, who worked on the 2016 platform committee. 

The National Association of Gun Rights is a 20-year old organization with members in seven states, a staff of 64, and reported revenue of more than $12 million.

It bills itself as the “conservative alternative” to the NRA and claims credit for the defeat of a 2013 Senate proposal to expand background checks on firearms purchases. 

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“I’m here to tell you that Donald Trump has a very poor record on the Second Amendment and Joe Biden is not better,” he said. 

“The Democrats were saying I support gun control and they do. Republicans were saying I support the Second Amendment — (but) they don’t,” is how Brown, with a hearty laugh, explained his take of the two parties.  

Millions of Americans, even some with “nose rings and Bernie stickers on their cars,” have been buying guns this summer because of a fear stemming from the pandemic and whether law enforcement will arrive when called, he said. 

So far this year, sales of firearms as tracked by the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) are up more than 70% since January.

NICS checks for January-July 2020 is a record 12.1 million, a 71.7% increase from the 7.1 million in 2019. According to a National Shooting Sports Foundation analysis, nearly five million people became first-time gun owners in the first seven months of this year.

“It’s a foxhole conversion. These people are being converted at least into owning guns. It might not change how they vote – we’re not suggesting it should, at least in terms of the presidential campaign,” Brown said. 

Brown thinks the Democrats have an incoherent message on gun violence and safety. But he has little faith in Republicans protecting gun rights because Trump dismissed due process in gun cases after the Parkland shooting, and the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature responded to the massacre with three gun control measures.  

“They folded like a sack of potatoes,” Brown said. 

Back Story

  • Parkland parents urge lawmakers to support compromise gun bill
  • Florida Senate takes deep dive on mass shootings and hate, but largely skirts gun regulations
  • Putnam, DeSantis slammed for opposing new gun law; both say restrictions unconstitutional

Roger Marmet lives in Lee County and lost his 22-year old son to gun violence. He volunteers with the Florida branch of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. 

Marmet agrees with Brown’s assessment that millions of people are in fact arming themselves with firearms. He makes a tired-sounding sigh when talk turned to politicians and guns.

“It’s absurd! Come with me to Fort Myers or Lehigh Acres where it is easier to buy a gun than a bottle of vodka,” he said about roadside vendors who set up tents and offer guns for sale.  

Marmet supports expanded background checks, something Brown abhors, because he simply thinks there are too many guns currently in circulation. But he also agrees with Brown that convention speeches and remarks are often heated and without reason.  

Both Pollack and Guttenberg are accusing people on the other side of “politicizing” the 17 deaths and 17 injuries in the Valentine’s Day shooting. 

One sees expanded background checks as a way to curb gun violence; the other has no faith in gun laws and turns to technology like software that allows law enforcement to lock and unlock doors in a school.  

Marmet is an Everytown USA Fellow, a parent whose child died due to gun violence. It’s not only a support group of grieving parents but also a team of advocates. He pauses when asked whether the acts of people like himself stepping into a political convention to tell the story of their child and their grief is politicizing their child’s death.

“If fighting for change is politicizing something as tragic as an everyday shooting then so be it,” he said. 

Then, with a pivot to the Parkland shooting, Marmet endorsed the increase in the minimum age for gun purchases, expanded background checks and the red flag lawthat the Legislature passed after the Parkland shooting.

A red flag law, also known as a “Risk Protection Order,” enables law enforcement officers to petition a judge for permission to confiscate the weapons of someone suspected of posing a threat to public safety. 

“It would be great to do stuff more proactively, but when faced with something as horrific as Parkland, that was responsible leadership,” Marmet said. 

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee

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