OpEd: The Congressman Does Not Have to Yield

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In the past month since the Parkland Massacre, several very vocal students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have risen to national prominence. 

Like Emma Gonzalez, who happened to be the President of the Douglas High School Gay Straight Alliance, you have seen them featured locally and nationally on television, boldly speaking about the need to end gun violence in America. 

The person I write about today though is her congressman, Ted Deutch, a firm, fit and progressive voice; a man who has also risen in stature and prominence this past month, to the national stage and the epicenter of the gun control debate in America. 

Within the halls of Congress, where Deutch has served for eight years, he had already won the respect and admiration of his colleagues for his professionalism, decency, and class.  In the wake of the shootings in Parkland, that polite but polemical charge has won liberal acclaim.

The clear majority of his constituents are Jewish retirees living in condominiums like Century Village in Boca. You would think that while advancing an agenda that protected Israel and the elderly, his name and game plan would not be controversial. He did not have to worry about too many opponents, and most of his constituents share his beliefs. 

But his voice has a new measure today.

Before serving in Congress, he was a Florida state senator, where as a member of the National Young Leadership Cabinet of United Jewish Communities, Deutsch organized over 2,500 people to march on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., with the intent of pressuring Congress on a slate of issues affecting children and the elderly. He was always an advocate for an honorable cause, but those issues are not what I am writing about today.

While I am usually the critic who can find a little bad in the best of things, on issue after issue, I have always admired Deutch’s positions, policies, and practices. He even supported medical marijuana before other politicians realized so did 75 percent of their constituents.

I salute Ted today because of the things he said and did yesterday, long before the massacre in Parkland. Given chance and opportunity, he was a voice to end gun violence in Congress year after year. 

As a matter of fact, two years ago, he gave a speech decrying the weak laws controlling handgun sales and distribution in Florida, publicly declaring that because of Congressional inaction and ineptitude, “Florida’s most shameful and shocking export is gun violence.” That was a month –  one month –  before the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Deutch was ahead of his time when he stood on the floor of Congress on May 29, 2016 and stated, “Mr. Speaker, my home state of Florida has some of the worst gun laws in the country, and Florida’s legislature has done nothing to stop it.” His words went unheeded and 30 days later 39 young men and women perished in Orlando. 

It was not Deutch’s first time down that road. Mass shootings haunted him. Two years before, he gave an interview with the Sun-Sentinel giving what you would reasonably anticipate was the standard litany of liberal answers, expressing support for same-sex marriage, which our community would win two years later in the Supreme Court.

Deutch also reaffirmed his commitment to Israel, Obamacare, Social Security, and as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, his support for protecting women’s reproductive rights from judicial interference. 

But I am not here today to talk about that either.

Congressman Deutch was even asked what conservatives he admired in the House, and he complimented Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, stating that if house members listened more to her “on issues affecting the LGBT community, then the American community would be more inclusive than it is today. So, I absolutely admire a lot of Republicans, but it’s the 10 to 15 percent of the House that prevents the thoughtful, the majority really of Republicans who are thoughtful from being able to work to get things done.”

However, as I just stated, even though SFGN is the voice of LGBT South Florida, I am not here to talk about that today either. 

As the 2014 interview wrapped up, the congressman turned to the reporter and offered his own, unsolicited opinion about the issue that had caused him more angst in office than any other, after- at that time- only four years on his job. 

Here are those words: 

“There is one issue that so frustrates me. Every morning I walk past an elementary school in my neighborhood in Washington. And it’s usually about the time that the parents are dropping off their kids,” he added.  “And I can’t help thinking about what happened at Sandy Hook in Connecticut, and the thought that we still haven’t even been able to have a vote on a piece of meaningful gun safety legislation that’s supported by Democrats, Republicans, and even NRA members.”

Ahead of his time, but stopped by a Republican congress bent on being supplicant to the NRA and gun lobbyists, Congressman Deutch concluded: “Of all the things that are happening here, my frustration about the power of special interests blocking our ability to do meaningful things for the American people can really be summed up in that issue and the fact that we have let down those families and we’ve let down the people of this country by failing to do anything to move gun safety legislation.”

Spoken four years before Parkland and two years before Pulse, those words were still not heard in Tallahassee or the Oval Office last week. Both portals of power think that an AR-15 should rightfully be in the hands of an 18-year-old; you know the ones whose driver’s license they suspend if they are caught with a .01 breath alcohol level while driving a car.

The congressman was up front on this issue in the state capitol even before that. It was January 31, 2013 that he stood before television cameras at a press conference in Tallahassee and spoke these words: “We must have laws which better restrict high powered weapons and legislation that compels universal background checks. There has been a lot of talk in this country about what we can do,” Deutch said. “This is something that has to be acted upon.”

I don’t know where we measure up today, but back in 2013 Florida ranked 49th in the nation amongst all states for mental health funding. I am guessing our lot has not improved under Governor Rick Scott. 

As a congressperson representing South Florida, Deutch has spoken out about gun violence before the headlines brought the national media to his district in Parkland, to the students whose courage is changing the national debate. Now it is up to us to support him. 

We have seen all too often how unchecked and uncensored the gun lobby has had its way. Nothing better reflects their continuing success th the playing field on which the dialogue is today framed.

You see, as we debate whether kids should get assault rifles, or bump stocks should be outlawed, we have almost conceded that reforming the second amendment entirely is not an option. It should be. That is why our forefathers called them amendments. They foresaw a Bill of Rights that might alter the constitution on one hand, but still preserved our fundamental freedoms on the other.

Unfortunately, we are no longer fighting about the thousands of handguns and daily shootings that are slaughtering our nation. We are just saying we will be happy if we can take AK 47’s and AR-15’s off the playing field. 

Amazingly, we are no longer fighting about eliminating guns; we are just fighting over the size of the ones we are going to hang up over our fireplace. And thanks to the NRA, we are not even winning that battle.

There was a time when the debate was different. Hell, at the start of my legal career in Fort Lauderdale I sued then mayor Virginia Young for brandishing a hand gun in a campaign poster, saying it violated a new “anti-pornography” ordinance in the city, because people dying from handgun violence was a lot more obscene than people reading “dirty” books. The book stores Fort Lauderdale closed in four years, but the gun shows have gone on for forty.

I pretty much had forgotten about that episode 40 years ago, but then last week the students of Stoneman Douglas went to Tallahassee to fight for new gun legislation, and what did they encounter? A group of legislators debating an anti-pornography bill, that’s what. Deja’ Vu. And the biggest show in town last weekend was Stormy Daniels at the Booby Trap. Some things never change.

So how far have we regressed if we have not progressed in all these years? Ted Deutch, with his constituency, should not be debating massacres and gun violence with Jake Tapper on national television. He should be schmoozing with bagels and lox on a Sunday morning at the Delray Beach Democratic club. Although as a vegan, I am not sure he does nova lox any more. 

Anyway, we sat next to each other at a political event two months ago; a Dolphin Democratic awards ceremony honoring long time LGBT pioneers. We laughed. We joked. We smiled. We had not yet lived through Parkland, an episode that will now forever etch its way into the soul of America’s tragedies. 

Out of that adversity, a group of young students under Deutch’s aegis are becoming their own pioneers, the next generation of leaders. With their passion and their protests, they have won the hearts and souls of America’s conscience. 

By their side, Ted Deutch has become an eloquent spokesman, a good man doing his job well, a principled voice for our children, courageously and conscientiously advocating bipartisanship and fraternity. It’s something this country desperately needs. We sure are not going to get it from the madman in the Oval Office. We are lucky to get it from the gentleman representing South Florida.


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