Last Summer — eight days after the Pulse nightclub shooting — the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence asked state politicians to hold a special session to ban assault weapons and increase background checks. Nothing happened.
At the time, 80 local, state and nationwide organizations signed on with organizers, The League of Women Voters of Florida, to increase gun control in the state. While Governor Rick Scott and other state representatives paid no attention to the letters and requests, the group kept growing, both in numbers and in strength. Today, more than 100 organizations from across the state and country are looking for increased gun measures in Florida. Now, politicians are joining the cause.
Earlier this month, following another shooting in Florida where five people were shot dead at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, two bills were introduced by House and Senate members.
On Jan. 6, openly gay State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Sen. Linda Stewart, both from Orlando, announced an assault weapons ban, making it a third-degree felony to have possession of one. A few days later, Senator Gary Farmer announced a background check proposal. Patti Brigham, the 1st vice president and the gun safety chair of The League of Women Voters of Florida, said these bills were always part of the plan.
“When we announced our goals, it was always two proposals: an assault weapons ban and a background check proposal,” Brigham said. “Legislators that have stepped up to sponsor are serious about this.”
All three legislators have had shootings in their respective areas, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, in the last seven months: the June 12 Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting where 49 people died and 53 others were wounded and the Jan. 6 Fort Lauderdale International Airport shooting.
Even with another major shooting in the state, Brigham said the group is optimistic but realistic.
“We had every intention to make [the group] big, we're absolutely delighted at how much it's grown in a short amount of time,” she said. “It's confirming what we knew, which was a growing number of Floridians and a grassroots movement that wants responsible gun legislation.”
Fort Lauderdale-based SunServe signed on as a partner organization with the movement last summer, and Executive Director Mark Ketcham said it’s simply because of the similar missions both groups have.
“At SunServe, we're a social service agency, we help people. Assault weapons don't help people! They hurt them!” Ketcham said. “We should be doing everything to get them off the street.”
A ban isn’t just good for the LGBT community, Ketcham said it’ll be helpful to everyone.
“I've yet to be convinced that they have any place in our society,” he said. “Citizens should not have assault weapons.”
SunServe isn’t the only LGBT-specific organization that has signed onto the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. Others include: CenterLink; Equality Florida; Gay Key West / Key West Business Guild; The Pride Center; and Pridelines, Miami.
Brigham said it’s been a two-way street as groups signed on in support — some reached out to them, sometimes they reached out to others.
“We had a lot of outreach going on in a condensed period of time, then some people heard about it and reached out to us,” she said. “We have very strong partners that are reflective of the diversity of coalition. You start talking about it then people hear about it.”
The swell of support is heartening, she said, and shows Brigham that the work the group is doing needs to continue.
“Just like when we said we were forming the coalition, we know it's a tough fight in Florida,” she said. “We don't plan on going away. It's not a 5K it's a marathon.”
To see the full list of organizations or to add your organization to the list, go to PreventGunViolenceFlorida.org.