TALLAHASSEE – Efforts commence on Capitol Hill to create bipartisan gun reform. Florida's legislature might serve as the road map to do so. The Sunshine State passed such legislation following the 2018 Parkland school shooting.
"You look down a hallway of a school, a place where kids are supposed to grow up and learn, prepare themselves for the future," said former State Rep. Jared Moskowitz. "Instead, you see a warzone."
Moskowitz served in the 97th District, right next door to Parkland. Seventeen were killed in the massacre. In the 48 hours that followed, Moskowitz asked state leaders to tour the school.
"They were all crying," he said of those leaders that toured the school. "Every single one of them."
That night, Moskowitz went to dinner with then-Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, writing potential legislation on napkins.
"Two napkins, here's the world of everything, and then we started talking about what was possible and could get the votes for," said Moskowitz. Remember, this is a republican house, republican senate, A+ rated members of the NRA."
Republican leaders at the time, like Jose Oliva, a future house speaker, said preventing another mass school shooting became the goal.
"We wanted to make sure these warning signs could be seen, documented, and acted upon," said Oliva. "You can go back and roll the tapes. We disagreed a lot. But we didn't doubt each other's sincerity."
Oliva and Moskowitz agree that not demonizing the other side publicly was key to bipartisan efforts. There was give and take in the bill. Parkland parents coming to Tallahassee also moved the needle.
"I was going to make them meet with these parents, these students, which they did every day those couple of weeks," added Moskowitz. "Wheels could have come off that thing at any moment. It was held together by a couple of people."
A potential obstacle was an influential lobbyist, the NRA.
"When all the other gun violence prevention stuff went in there, the NRA came out against the bill," said Moskowitz. "Started working members against it."
"They felt strongly about one component, one of the two lightning rods in the bill," mentioned Oliva.
Oliva says some were against raising the age to purchase firearms to 21. Others opposed the guardian program, allowing teachers to be armed in schools with training. Behind-the-scenes talks, and concessions from both sides, facilitated the deal.
"Democrats didn't have the power to change the law," said Moskowitz. "Republicans did. I used every relationship I had. Every lever of government, every button I could push."
Wanting to seize the moment, Moskowitz, Oliva, and other critical political leaders collaborated, creating the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act.
"For me, it wasn't about a political win," said Moskowitz. "It was about keeping kids safe in school."
The legislation barely passed both chambers, with members from each party voting against it.
"Voted for it believing it was a good product created in a good way," said Oliva. "The people voted against it; I think a lot of them feel like there were two lightning rod issues they're still not ok with."
Once passed, the MSD bill provided hundreds of millions for mental health resources and school safety. The act raised the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21, created a three-day waiting period on firearm purchases, the guardian program, and a red flag law, allowing law enforcement to remove weapons from those deemed dangerous.
Measures Moskowitz believes DC should consider.
"It's a good argument to Democrats to their Republican colleagues up in Washington," said Moskowitz. "If Republican Florida can do it, you can, too."
Both Oliva and Moskowitz credit Kristin Jacobs, a former South Florida state representative, for helping pave the path for the reform. Jacobs died in April of 2020.
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