The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, And Its Impact On Local And State Governments

by Bernard McCormick Apr 2018 Also on Digital Edition

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, And Its Impact On Local And State Governments

Last month the lead editorial in a Sunday edition of the Sun- Sentinel was one for the ages. It dealt with the extraordinary reaction by some South Florida political leaders to an extraordinary situation. Namely, the refusal of the state legislature to even consider a ban on military assault-style weapons in the wake of the Parkland tragedy, despite unprecedented appeals by so many people, including the eloquent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, to do something about these weapons in the hands of unstable people.

The Sun-Sentinel applauded “local profiles in courage”—prominent South Florida leaders, and others in municipalities around the state, who are advocating what we might call “civic disobedience,” a government version of civil disobedience—defiance of the state government whose gun laws are dominated by redneck legislators who are either bought off directly by the National Rifle Association, or otherwise intimidated by the threat of political opposition in their next election. Among those saluted by the paper:

Coral Gables City Commissioner Frank Quesada and his colleagues for passing an assault weapons ban in that city—in defiance of a state law that local communities can’t pass gun control ordinances, and says such conduct is punishable by a $5,000 fine, removal from office and requirement to pay one’s own legal expenses.

Coral Springs Mayor Walter (Skip) Campbell, who is calling for a state initiative to ban assault weapons. He needs more than 700,000 signatures to get it on a ballot, but considering that polls show overwhelming support for gun control, that is possible.

Broward Commissioner Michael Udine, Parkland’s former mayor, who has been an outspoken advocate for an assault weapons ban.

Weston Mayor Dan Sterner, whose city commission is planning to sue the state to overturn present laws permitting such weapons. The Sun-Sentinel also cited Dania Beach and Boca Raton, who have passed resolutions calling for an assault weapons ban and other gun reforms.

The Sun-Sentinel showed its own courage by writing: “Many more communities need to join this overdue revolution.” It was, in effect, endorsing defiance of the state, encouraging civic disobedience. Later in the piece it added this strong assessment of the situation:

“This is an existential struggle between the gun lobby’s perverted idea of ‘freedom’ and the right of everyone else to freedom from fear and to life itself. To the NRA, ‘freedom’ means being able to manufacture, sell, buy and bear any weapon anywhere and anytime. If people die on that account, it’s the price of their ‘freedom.’” 

Considering the decline of The Miami Herald’s circulation (and influence) in half of Broward and all of Palm Beach County, the Sun-Sentinel enjoys a monopoly over a broad stretch of the Gold Coast with the audience that still reads newspapers. That audience, although smaller than in the past, is still the power structure of the communities it serves.

Because the Sun-Sentinel’s circulation dies off around Delray Beach, our northern readers don’t often see it. But they have a consolation prize in the Palm Beach Post, whose opinions on the gun subject are in sync with the Sun-Sentinel. And they get a bonus with the popular local columnist, Frank Cerabino, who often adds a touch of humor to his insightful opinions on the subject of guns.

If the Sun-Sentinel’s editorial were designed to make people angry, it succeeded brilliantly. The only thing we might have added are the salaries earned by the NRA figures. Wayne LaPierre, the CEO, reportedly earns in the millions. Marion Hammer, the organization’s lobbyist who is credited with making Florida the leader in reckless gun-friendly laws was reported making in the hundreds of thousands—for relatively few actual working hours.

In the past, such a gutsy editorial from the Sun-Sentinel would have been close to shocking. But today, not so much, thanks to the leadership of Rosemary O’Hara, editorial page
editor.  In the opinion of the many newspaper people in the area, this woman has been one of the best things that have happened to local journalism in years.

Dan Christensen, former Miami Herald reporter who does the Florida Bulldog blog, an investigative outlet that has filled a void left when newspapers cut staff drastically, shares a common with view Ms. O’Hara: “She’s almost single-handedly brought respectability to the paper’s editorial page with her strong, thoroughly researched editorials. A side benefit is that she’s boosting the paper’s image in the community even as it dwindles in size and coverage.”

Well done, Ms. O’Hara. Well done, Sun-Sentinel.