Incident at local middle school brings reform issues to focus
On Sept. 20, a 14-year-old student was arrested for bringing a loaded pistol to Lincoln Memorial Academy, a middle school in Palmetto County. Earlier that same week, New College students made efforts to speak with U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan to combat gun violence at the district office in downtown Sarasota.
Chief Deputy of the Palmetto Police Department Scott Tyler explained that other students at the middle school immediately notified teachers that the culprit was showcasing the .45 pistol in the lunchroom. Because students acted fast to tell their teachers, the middle school did not have to undergo a lockdown and no one was hurt in the process.
“The juvenile was charged with Aggravated Assault, Possession of a Concealed Firearm, and Possession of a Firearm in a School,” Tyler said in an email interview.
Two days earlier, New College students advocated for gun reform in downtown Sarasota. Thesis student Ormond Derrick and first-year and Catalyst Staff Writer Sofia Lombardi visited U.S. Representative Vern Buchana’s district office and met with his legislative director to discuss the different gun reform policies Buchanan has supported and plans to support.
On Buchanan’s government website there are no published records of his stances regarding gun control. However, “Buchanan is usually a bipartisan vote on issues like gun control,” Derrick said.
Derrick has been involved with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) since his first year at New College.
“Right now there are two bills I’m focusing on in my work with FCNL,” Derrick said. “The first one is the universal background checks bill. The other is the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, also known as the red flag law, which is stigmatizing towards mentally ill people so we don’t tend to use that but that’s what a lot of members of Congress know it by.”
House Resolution 8, the Bipartisan Backgrounds Checks Act of 2019, establishes new background check requirements for the transfer of firearms between unlicensed individuals. The bill specifically prohibits the transfer of firearms between private parties with the exception of licensed gun dealer, manufacturer or importer conducting a background check on the individual who is purchasing the firearm. House Resolution 8 was passed in the House of Representatives on Feb. 27 and will be presented to the Senate for consideration.
Meanwhile, House Resolution 1236, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2019, was sent to Congress for approval in a report. It has yet to be sent and approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bill supports the efforts to remove access to firearms from individuals who are “a danger to themselves or others” mandated through a court order. A judge will determine whether the individual is considered an “extreme risk,” based on suicidal tendencies, posts about hurting others online and other criteria. If the individual is found to be a “risk,” law enforcement will temporarily remove the firearm from the individual’s possession.
“The clear cut example of when House Resolution 1236 could have been applied is when the family members of the Parkland shooter saw signs of the shooter’s danger and contacted law enforcement explaining that their son might do something rash,” Derrick said. “But there was no clear process to restrict his access to firearms or do anything about that and obviously we saw the end results for that.”
Tyler explained the current procedures in place for police officers to handle these high risk situations.
“If we become aware of individuals who may have access to firearms and who make threats to harm themselves or others, we contact the individual and conduct a threat assessment,” Tyler said. “This includes verifying whether or not the person has firearms. If they do, we will take the firearms into protective custody.”
Florida State Statute 790.401 calls for a Risk Protection Order (RPO), which allows law enforcement to immediately petition to the court for an ex-parte order to seize the firearms and ammunition of a person who has made threats to harm themselves or others with those weapons. If the individual does not voluntarily hand over the firearms and ammunition, then law enforcement may try to petition—under the Risk Protection Order—for a search warrant to ensure that the weapons and firearms the individual may have access to are secured. The Risk Protection Order also prevents the individual from legally purchasing or attaining more firearms when in effect.
“Once the immediacy of the situation has passed, the RPO will again be reviewed by the courts within 30 days, giving the individual the right to appear,” Tyler said. “If a permanent RPO is issued, it will remain in effect for one year and extensions may be authorized by the court.”
Second-year Emma Gonzalez is a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and is currently one of the leaders of the March For Our Lives movement. She explained in an email interview that the current way of preventing gun violence is failing.
“Overall, both of these bills will make the Sarasota community, and many others around the country, safer by preventing those who pose a risk to their families and community from owning a gun,” Gonzalez said. “It is pieces of legislation like these that are crucial steps forward in the journey to save lives from preventable gun violence.”
People can help promote change, “Simply by contacting their members of Congress, protesting, voting in every election, and encouraging others to speak out,” Gonzalez suggests.
Gonzalez stressed the importance of increasing political engagement among the community to constitute change.
“I think people forget how powerful their voice can be, and how much of a difference they can make, especially young people,” Gonzalez said. “Change will only come if we make our voices heard by those in positions of power.”