Something incredible is happening: a mass shooting took place nearly two weeks ago, stealing the lives of over a dozen children and brave teachers, casting yet another dark shadow over a nation that bounds from one senseless tragedy to the next… and we are still talking about it. In fact, not only are we still talking about it, actual progress is being made in the fight against gun violence.
Forward motion in the gun control movement had long seemed impossible, given the political and financial power of the NRA. The most formidable lobbying group in America, as cruel and ruthless as the weapons its members manufacture, had bought off our politicians and created a culture of paranoia and machismo — a toxic combination — by stoking fears and hatred. But the students from Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School have stood up and forced the world to listen, focusing their pain into an unprecedented response (check out and donate to their campaign, March for Our Lives). For years, lawmakers have ignored the resistance and social movements put up by young people and minority Americans, but that is changing.
The NRA has lost a lot of corporate partners over the last week, and you can join the campaign increase that number with the #BoycottNRA hashtag on Twitter. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio, who has received over $3 million from the gun lobby, melted under the spotlights and impassioned challenges of Parkland students on live TV. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, long an NRA champion, has proposed modest reforms. Even Donald Trump, when not making fart noises about arming teachers, has endorsed banning bump stocks and toughening background checks. These politicians know that things need to change, and they’re trying to get ahead of it with minor reforms, in hopes of staving off the huge wave that is coming for them.
We owe it to the students and teachers in Parkland, as well as the tens of thousands of Americans killed by guns each year, to not let them get away with that. We owe it to our children and ourselves to not let the reign of terror to continue, to create a safer and more just America in which the specter of a violent and senseless death does not hang over every single day. And to make that happen, we need to make sure we have the right lawmakers in place, people who will prioritize firm gun control that reflects the will of the people, not an extremist group of multinational weapons manufacturers.
Ryan Torrens, the 32-year-old candidate for Florida Attorney General, is one of those candidates. We’ve already endorsed him, and earlier this week, we spoke to him about what specific actions he would take to tighten gun regulations and enact reform if elected.
Progressives Everywhere: Gov. Scott has proposed raising the age for gun purchases, as well as a waiting period for purchases and enforcing the Baker Act, among other things. That leads me to wonder, what other gun control/regulations are on the books in Florida already, and how have they been enforced?
Torrens: Florida has a number of gun regulations on the books, which can be found in Chapter 790, Florida Statutes. For example, with limited exceptions, Florida does not allow open carry but does permit concealed carry with a proper license. Concealed carry is not permitted with long guns or machine guns. Florida also does not permit any form of a gun registry. Florida grants gun manufacturers immunity from civil suit (Fla. Stat. 790.331) but permits actions for design defects. In many ways, Florida’s immunity law resembles the federal gun manufacturer immunity law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce In Arms Act. Due to these laws, many suits against gun manufacturers have been dismissed.
In 2011, Florida passed a law (Fla. Stat. 790.33) which prohibits local governments from enacting any gun ordinances. Any violators can be fined up to $5,000 and removed from office. So now we have a situation where our legislature refuses to lead on our crisis of gun violence, but yet our local governments are restricted from passing sensible gun ordinances to protect our children and families.
As attorney general, I would not enforce this preemption law so that our local governments can pass these ordinances to protect our communities. Here is an article the Florida Politics blog ran the other day on our position. I thought you may also like this article on how much better the Democratic AGs are on gun reform than the Republican ones, particularly Pam Bondi, who has an awful record on gun reform.
Many of Florida’s gun laws have criminal penalties for violating them, and these crimes would typically be prosecuted by the state attorney’s office. If, however, an individual or a criminal enterprise are violating our gun laws in a way which impacts two or more judicial circuits, then I would have jurisdiction as attorney general through our Office of Statewide Prosecution.
Progressives Everywhere: What can the attorney general do to further enforce these laws?
Torrens: Florida desperately needs an attorney general who will lead on this issue and put our children and families first. There are a few key ways I would be able to help enforce our gun laws. First, I would have no tolerance for criminal enterprises illegally dealing firearms. Many of these cases do fall under the jurisdiction of the attorney general, and I would prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law to protect our families.
Second, our current attorney general, Pam Bondi, has a horrendous record on gun reform and has put special interest groups like the NRA first at every turn. In contrast, just like with any other corporation, if gun manufacturers or gun stores break our laws, they will be brought to court and held accountable. If a gun manufacturer produces a weapon with a design defect and it ends up in the hands of Floridians or if a gun manufacturer is pushing deceptive and illegal marketing into the Florida market, then they will be held accountable.
A good example is how Remington has been held accountable by state AGs for their malfunctioning safety in the M700 series of hunting rifles. The message will be very clear: gun manufacturers and gun stores will follow our laws like everyone else, or there will be serious consequences. Protecting Florida’s children and families must always come first.
Third, I could help by not enforcing the statute mentioned above, Fla. Stat. 790.33, so that our localities can pass sensible gun ordinances to protect our children and our families. Of course, I prefer uniform, statewide laws, but it is unconscionable for our legislature to fail to act yet at the same time restrict local governments from protecting their own communities. If the leaders of Broward County, for example, are ready to take action to protect their community, then I’m going to let them as our legislature still refuses to act.
Progressives Everywhere: You’ve proposed suing the pharmaceutical companies over the opioid crisis. Is there a similar approach possible for gun companies?
Torrens: I want to repeat something I have said over and over again the last 9 months on the campaign trail: I will put an end to the double-standard we have had for so long and enforce one set of rules. For too long, big corporations and the special interest groups have had special privileges, special access, and are rarely held accountable for their actions. Yet, if one of us goes to Circle K and steals a Snickers bar we are taken to jail. Whether it is a gun manufacturer, a big bank, a big pharmaceutical company, or a sex trafficker who is breaking our laws, our laws will be enforced swiftly, aggressively, and equally.
Progressives Everywhere: How can the AG deal with the NRA?
Torrens: While I will never accept a penny in contributions from the NRA, I do believe very strongly in the need for our leaders to listen to competing policy recommendations to come up with the most sensible solution. Otherwise, it is very easy to fall into “groupthink.” The way I would deal with the NRA is to make it very clear that my priority as attorney general will always be the protection of our children, families, and first responders.
The NRA would always be free to express their opinions but I don’t belong to anybody except the people of Florida. For far too long, many of our politicians like Pam Bondi have put special interest groups ahead of the interests of the people.
Progressives Everywhere: How can the FL AG’s office work with other AGs and national policymakers?
Torrens: For too long, Florida has been on the wrong side of these important issues. It’s time for Florida’s attorney general to lead again, and I will be that leader. Democratic attorneys general from around the country have been coordinating litigation efforts on gun reform and coordinating lawsuits again gun manufacturers when they break our laws. I will always work closely with other attorneys general around the country to coordinate efforts, where possible, to protect our citizens.
Here is a memo released by the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) providing some examples of Democratic attorneys general working together in this area. The attorneys general are really the last line of defense between the Trump administration and its failed policies and our people. Florida, being home of the Pulse nightclub shooting and now Parkland, deserves an attorney general who will have the courage to stand up to the NRA and be a leader on our crisis of gun violence. I am prepared to be that leader.
Progressives Everywhere: We hear a lot about the gun show loophole; how can that be addressed?
Torrens: Typically, your gun show vendors, with tables and booths purchased at shows, are reputable Federal Firearms Licensed dealers (FFLs) who attend shows to drive their business. They DO require a criminal background check and surrender the weapons to either a contracted local FFL or Law Enforcement Agency if the background check requires more scrutiny. This is very rare.
The problem, and where the “gun show loophole” comes into effect is with non-FFL vendors and private citizens who will set up shop, or walk around the show to sell their private weapons. No background check or documentation is required and someone could easily obtain a firearm, illegally.
The solution would be to require all transactions, including private transfers of firearms, to have an FBI background check. This is easily accomplished and not prohibitively expensive. Any sporting goods store in America can do it and the records could be maintained through them. Usually costs about $30 to run a background, average cost of a personal defense pistol is $300-1000, and it usually takes 1-5 hours.
At a gun show, you could purchase a ticket as someone intending to buy a firearm, as opposed accessories, optics, knives, or ammo, and your background could be run while you shop around.
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