Sur­vivors launch ini­tia­tive

Pro­posed amend­ment would let ci­ti­zens vote to ban sale of as­sault weapons

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Linda Trischitta

Sur­vivors of the mas­sacre at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School hope the state’s vot­ers will do what they say elected of­fi­cials have not achieved: Re­form gun laws to ban the sale of mil­i­tary grade weapons.

They pre­sented the first batch of pe­ti­tions to the Broward County su­per­vi­sor of elec­tions Mon­day for a pro­posed amend­ment for Florida’s 2020 elec­tion bal­lot. The law would not pro­hibit hand­guns and would ex­empt as­sault weapons that were legally owned be­fore it is en­acted.

Among the speak­ers at a news con­fer­ence Mon­day in down­town Fort Laud­erdale: Vot­ing and gun con­trol ac­tivist David Hogg, who was a stu­dent in the Park­land school on Feb. 14, 2018, when 17 stu­dents and staffers were killed and 17

oth­ers were wounded.

Gail Schwartz, whose 14-year-old nephew Alex Schachter was one of those mur­dered, sub­mit­ted to the elec­tions of­fice 200 of the hun­dreds of thou­sands of pe­ti­tions they’ll need to gather.

Debbi Hixon, whose hus­band, Chris Hixon, was the school’s ath­letic di­rec­tor, at­tended the event as did Mitch and An­nika Dworet, par­ents of Ni­cholas Dworet, 17.

Hixon, the ed­u­ca­tor, and Dworet, the stu­dent, also were killed that day.

“As Amer­i­cans and Florid­i­ans we can come to­gether to say that gun vi­o­lence is not go­ing to hap­pen in the Sun­shine State,” Hogg said. “Gun vi­o­lence is a pre­ventable is­sue. … The fact of the mat­ter is, if you are us­ing an as­sault weapon to de­fend your­self … you are hunt­ing some­one. You are not de­fend­ing your­self.”

Giv­ing the event bi­par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal sup­port was Ann Marie Mi­lano, who spoke on be­half of Al Hoff­man Jr., a for­mer am­bas­sador to Por­tu­gal and GOP donor. Mi­lano said Hoff­man is a vet­eran, life­long Repub­li­can and long­time holder of a con­cealed weapon li­cense. He is a de­vel­oper of Park­land and a leader of the Repub­li­can or­ga­ni­za­tion Amer­i­cans for Gun Safety Now!, which is sup­port­ing the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment.

Mi­lano said that group’s goals in­clude “ed­u­cat­ing Florid­i­ans on the crit­i­cal need to ban as­sault weapons in our state to pro­tect the ones we love. Our bi­par­ti­san coali­tion is not try­ing to take any­one’s guns or Sec­ond Amend­ment rights. We are sim­ply striv­ing to keep the use of mil­i­tary grade as­sault weapons in the hands of the mil­i­tary and law en­force­ment, who are trained to use them.”

Asked if Hoff­man was hear­ing from other Repub­li­cans who did not feel the way he does about pos­si­ble re­stric­tions on mil­i­tary grade ri­fles, Mi­lano said, “I think the point is that we have a lot of peo­ple that are com­ing to­gether in our party, and we’re mov­ing for­ward with that.”

Mar­ion Ham­mer, the Florida lob­by­ist for the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and the group’s past pres­i­dent, said of the pro­posed law, “This pe­ti­tion seeks to ban prac­ti­cally ev­ery ri­fle and shot­gun in Amer­ica to­day with the ex­cep­tion sin­gleshot bolt ac­tion ri­fles or sin­gle-shot shot­guns by call­ing them as­sault weapons.

“It is a bla­tant at­tempt to fool Florid­i­ans by suck­ing them into a de­cep­tion that would ef­fec­tively ban most hunt­ing, tar­get shoot­ing, and sig­nif­i­cant home de­fense as well.”

The con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment pe­ti­tion form sum­ma­rizes the bal­lot mea­sure as “pro­hibit­ing pos­ses­sion of as­sault weapons de­fined as semi­au­to­matic ri­fles and shot­guns, ca­pa­ble of hold­ing more than 10 rounds of am­mu­ni­tion at once, ei­ther in a fixed or de­tach­able mag­a­zine, or any other am­mu­ni­tion-feed­ing de­vice. Pos­ses­sion of hand­guns is not pro­hib­ited.”

It also says that mil­i­tary and law en­force­ment per­son­nel are ex­empt in their of­fi­cial du­ties. And it “ex­empts and re­quires reg­is­tra­tion of as­sault weapons law­fully pos­sessed prior to this pro­vi­sion’s ef­fec­tive date,” and cre­ates crim­i­nal penal­ties for vi­o­la­tions.

Schwartz is chair of Ban As­sault Weapons NOW! Its mis­sion is to take the gun safety is­sue di­rectly to vot­ers, ac­cord­ing to the group’s web­site. She is also a mem­ber of the gun re­form group Do Some­thing Florida!, which de­scribes it­self a coali­tion of Florida vot­ers, stu­dents, non­prof­its, busi­nesses, com­mu­nity lead­ers and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

“We are here to­day be­cause it’s time to turn our grief into ac­tion,” said Schwartz. “It’s time for us to do some­thing, Florida. It’s time to ban the type of mil­i­tary grade as­sault weapons in the state of Florida that are used by our mil­i­tary, over­seas, on our en­e­mies, on the bat­tle­field.”

She wants it to be­come il­le­gal to sell such weapons in the state.

Hixon — whose hus­band, Chris Hixon, 49, a vet­eran and wrestling coach who was killed while try­ing to pro­tect his stu­dents — said she sup­ported the pe­ti­tion ef­fort.

“I’m not try­ing to take guns away from any­body ex­cept from peo­ple who shouldn’t have them,” Hixon said.

Other sup­port­ers at the press con­fer­ence in­cluded mem­bers of the League of Women Vot­ers of Florida and of the Florida chap­ter of Moms De­mand Ac­tion.

They will need 776,200 signed and cer­ti­fied pe­ti­tions by the end of this year and plan to gather about 1.1 mil­lion pe­ti­tions in case some sig­na­tures don’t match those on 2016 bal­lots and are tossed out, an or­ga­nizer said. There were 88,000 bal­lots col­lected so far across the state that are yet to be sub­mit­ted to other su­per­vi­sor of elec­tions of­fices.

Be­fore the Supreme Court of Florida re­views the amend­ment and de­cides whether it can go on bal­lots, 76,620 pe­ti­tions need to be cer­ti­fied.

An­drew Pol­lack, a gun owner whose 18-year-old daugh­ter Meadow also was killed at the Park­land school, said of his fel­low griev­ing par­ents who are pur­su­ing gun law re­form, “If they want to fo­cus on guns, I have no prob­lem with it. I like to con­cen­trate on school safety and ac­count­abil­ity.

“Once you bring the gun de­bate into it, you de­flect from mak­ing our kids safe,” Pol­lack said. “You bring up a whole other de­bate that peo­ple are go­ing to de­bate for hun­dreds of years.”

He was proud of the state law that he and Ryan Petty — whose daugh­ter Alaina was 14 when she was fa­tally shot at the high school — both sup­ported. It was passed less than a month af­ter the shoot­ings.

The law raised the min­i­mum age to buy ri­fles and shot­guns to 21; ex­tended a three-day wait­ing pe­riod for hand­gun pur­chases to in­clude long guns, and banned bump stocks that trans­form guns into au­to­matic weapons.

It al­lowed school em­ploy­ees to be armed, funds men­tal health pro­grams and es­tab­lished the Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School Pub­lic Safety Com­mis­sion, which con­tin­ues to in­ves­ti­gate the shoot­ing.

It also al­lowed a le­gal process for po­lice to seize firearms from peo­ple who make vi­o­lent threats to them­selves or oth­ers, and re­quired ev­ery school in Florida to have threat as­sess­ment teams meet each month.

Pol­lack called him­self a “law-abid­ing gun owner” and said hav­ing a weapon makes him feel safe “wher­ever I go. I’m not gonna be a vic­tim. I’m go­ing to be able to pro­tect the peo­ple around me that I love. … When evil shows up, I want to be able to pro­tect my­self.”

Thurs­day marks one year since the mas­sacre at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School. Hogg said he will spend it with his sis­ter Lau­ren. Four of her best friends were killed in the shoot­ings and he said she still cries for them ev­ery day.

“This is some­thing you do not move on from,” Hogg said.

Pol­lack said he won’t be go­ing to the school on Feb. 14.

“Ev­ery day is the same to me,” he said. “We all feel the same.”

“As Amer­i­cans and Florid­i­ans we can come to­gether to say that gun vi­o­lence is not go­ing to hap­pen in the Sun­shine State.” Park­land sur­vivor David Hogg

AMY BETH BEN­NETT/SUN SEN­TINEL

Ban As­sault Weapons Now Chair­woman Gail Schwartz sub­mits 200 pe­ti­tions to the Broward County Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions.

AMY BETH BEN­NETT/SUN SEN­TINEL

Park­land sur­vivor David Hogg speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the Broward County Gov­ern­ment Cen­ter in Fort Laud­erdale on Mon­day, fol­low­ing the sub­mis­sion of 200 pe­ti­tions to the Broward County Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions Of­fice.

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