Supporting leaders who will stand up to the NRA

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.

CLICK HERE to donate to Ryan Torrens using Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

How to help the students in Parkland with medical bills and political activism

The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL was heartbreaking. And given the GOP’s continued insistence that “now is not the time to talk about gun control,” it would be easy to despair and resign to mass murder as a standard fact of life, an assumed risk that hangs over our heads every time we leave the house. Fear seems like the new normal, every goodbye charged with the knowledge that it could be permanent.

But the students at Stoneman Douglas have refused to give in to that default feeling of defeat, and have instead have rallied through their mourning. They have purposely politicized this event, defying the calls by GOP officeholders like Marco Rubio who have cynically tried to take gun control off the table in the wake of a gun-driven tragedy. Through Twitter, remarkably poised TV interviewspublic speeches, and collective organization online, the students have demanded change, and we owe it to them to assist in any way we can.

This week, we are devoting Progressives Everywhere to raising money and support for their causes and the candidates that will act on their behalf. The Republican Party controls Florida, but as we saw last week, Democrats can turn the tide with concerted action and an emphasis on community. Even if you can’t vote in Florida, you can help fuel the movement pushing for change. They started March for Our Lives, a new national movement inspired by the shootings; you can support them by donating here. On March 24th, students across the country will descend on Washington to demand new gun laws, which should make for one of the most stirring protests of a Trump era filled with them. You can join and support their Facebook group, Never Again.

Financially, you can direct donations to help cover the considerable medical bills of Anthony Borges, a 15-year-old who was shot five times while holding a classroom door closed in order to protect his classmates. It is absurd that in America, anyone has to pay high hospital bills, and it’s especially offensive that a young hero like Anthony faces massive debt. Until we can fix the system, we can at least help him.

You can also follow many of the other heroic students on Twitter and amplify their message; here’s a good resource for those accounts.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is right now a bit of a longshot in the Democratic primary race to replace outgoing Florida Governor Rick Scott, but he’s by far the most progressive candidate. He’s also been standing up for gun control — his plan is very comprehensive — for a long time. He was sued by the gun lobby for refusing to repeal laws that banned shooting guns in public parks, and took that NRA-fueled juggernaut head-on. Tallahassee won that case, and Gillum promises similar outcomes should he win the governorship. He’s also been very vocal in the wake of the Parkland tragedy, highlighting the students speaking out and reiterating his calls for gun control.

There are also several special elections coming up in Florida, which can give Democrats a headstart in their efforts to turn the statehouse blue. First up is the race for the State Senate seat from the 81st district, which was vacated when the Democratic lawmaker admitted to having an affair with a lobbyist. It’s important for Dems to hold that seat in a lopsided Florida capitol, and luckily they have a great candidate in Lori Berman, who has been in the legislature for seven years. She has stopped taking contributions during the legislative session, but you can help in other ways via her website.

We also have to shout out a candidate we’ve already highlighted: Ryan Torrens, who is running for Florida attorney general. He has also come out for strong gun control reforms since the Parkland tragedy.

CLICK HERE to donate to Andrew Gillum and Ryan Torrens using Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

We need to fight the NRA’s biggest lapdogs in every election, and push Democrats to do so too

The unspeakable tragedy in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday compels us to speak up, as loud as we can and for as long as possible. Yet another school shooting, yet another bloody rampage by a homegrown terrorist with a weapon that no one outside the military should ever need or be able to access. There were 17 needless deaths because America is the only country that makes it easier to buy semi-automatic rifles than a bottle of wine.

We find ourselves in this awful, soul-crushing situation because the gun lobby, led by the NRA, has bought the Republican Party and created an insidious culture around firearms. The NRA spent $30 million to get Donald Trump elected president, and millions upon millions more to boost many other GOP officials. Republicans are cowards who only offer milquetoast “thoughts and prayers” regardless of how bloody and tragic the massacre, so if they won’t take action, we have to take matters into our own hands.

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There are several Republican lawmakers who have taken an exorbitant amount of money from the NRA that now face credible, aggressive, progressive Democratic candidates. We are going to highlight some of those candidates over the coming weeks and months, while also raising money for gun control advocacy groups. This week, we’ll start with Everytown, the loudest of these groups, to help show the NRA and GOP politicians that we are active and ready to take them on in this fight.

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Jess King, a candidate for Congress

Many of the top Republican recipients of NRA cash face serious threats from the Democratic side, but many of those candidates have yet to make clear their positions on gun control. In some cases, it’s a matter of coming from rural districts, where it can be a tricky issue, but nonetheless, we can’t exactly throw our support behind them quite yet; we want vocal Democrats taking on the gun lobby. But several candidates stand out as bold leaders on the matter.

Our candidate for this week is Jess King, who is running against Rep. Lloyd Smucker (PA-16), one of the biggest NRA lapdogs in Congress. In fact, Smucker received more money from the NRA than any other congressional candidate in 2016. The Pennsylvania map is about to be redrawn, but King will still be running for office. And you have to admire how vocal she’s been about gun control; unlike most candidates in her position, she has a detailed statement on her site about the need for new gun laws.

UPDATED: We also have to give credit to Jess for becoming the second candidate to have a unionized campaign staff:

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You can donate to Jess King via our ActBlue page.

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Special Victories in Florida and Minnesota — Plus More on the Way!

The Blue Wave crashed on the eastern shores of Florida on Tuesday evening, as Democrat Margaret Good won a highly contested special election and flipped yet another legislature seat from red to blue. Good — who received support from Progressives Everywhere readers — beat James Buchanan, the son of Rep. Vern Buchanan, for the right to represent House District 72 in the Florida legislature. The in gives Democrats their 36th new state house seat since the beginning of last year.

What’s more, not only was HD72 previously represented by a Republican, it also voted for Donald Trump. The Sarasota-area district went 51-46 for Trump, but like so many other local constituencies, turned to a Democratic candidate after a disastrous year. Good won by 52-45 margin, a 12 point swing that made her victory an unquestionable sign that Democrats are primed and ready to swamp the polls come November.

In fact, Good’s was the second major victory for the Democrats this week. On Monday night, Karla Bigham — another Progressives Everywhere endorsee — won her race for the State Senate in Minnesota, keeping Democrats one seat away from retaking the chamber.

These are obviously huge wins, and we need to keep the momentum going. There are several more special elections coming this month, including two in Kentucky. Next week will feature a race shaped by tragedy, making it a grim but important pickup opportunity.

In December, Dan Johnson, the GOP representative for the 49th House District in Kentucky, took his own life after news broke that he was accused of molesting a friend of his daughter’s during a sleepover, when the friend was just 17 years old.

He was controversial long before that — he had made racist Facebook posts and made up all kinds of lies, including claims that he worked in the White House and set up a morgue and blessed bodies for weeks after 9/11. Now his wife is running to take over his seat, facing off against Linda Belcher, a Democrat who narrowly lost to Johnson as the incumbent in 2016. She’s hoping to return to Frankfort after a year off, and we can help make it happen.

Another race in Kentucky involves a teacher running for a previously uncontested Republican seat. We spotlighted several teachers running for office in Kentucky a few weeks ago, and a now a librarian, Kelly Smith, is running in District 89. Her election is on February 27th, and just a little bit of money could make a big difference. She’s in a solid red district, but a good Democratic showing could at the very least begin the long climb back to parity in states like Kentucky.

Smith has a very progressive platform, and that’s important in Kentucky, where Gov. Matt Bevin is rolling back access to healthcare and cutting school budgets. Notably, she’s also focused on gun control, a bold position to have in Kentucky.

CLICK HERE to donate to Linda Belcher and Kelly Smith using Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

This professor wants to take on tech monopolies and fracking in Congress

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In early 2017, Marc Friedenberg and his neighbors in State College were concerned about what was happening in Washington. Donald Trump had only been in office for a month, and already things were going catastrophically awry — it’s hard to keep track of the scandals, so as a refresher, this was around the time of the Muslim Ban and the subsequent airport protests. After consulting the Indivisible Handbook, the Penn State professor set up a town hall event on campus and invited the Congressional representative for Pennsylvania’s fifth district to address his constituents.

When Congressman Glenn Thompson refused to show up, Friedenberg brought out a cardboard cutout of the Republican to stand in front of the over 400 people in attendance. The way Friedenberg sees it, the real Thompson wouldn’t have been much more responsive or reassuring anyway, which is why the 33-year-old activist and Penn State professor is challenging Thompson for his seat in Congress.

“He is a Republican Party man through and through and has a Trump score of almost 100%,” Friedenberg told Progressives Everywhere in a recent interview. “He’s not a leader in any sense of the word. He is inherited from the prior Republican congressman, he’s sort of the anointed successor. He has the highest staff cost from the Pennsylvania delegation. I think he’s just there to collect a check and then get his pension. And that’s just clearly not working for the people of this district.”

As it stands, the district is the biggest in the nation, a largely rural swath of central and western Pennsylvania that has Penn State as its semi-urban focal point. The borders of the district figure to change in a few months, now that Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has thrown out the state’s ridiculously gerrymandered congressional map, but Friedenberg isn’t slowing his campaign while the lines are redrawn.

Friedenberg began fighting GOP policies in the district long before he announced his candidacy. As the founder of PA5 Truth and Action, he led protests against the GOP’s attempts to repeal Obamacare, and supported other local movements and candidates. Now, he’s on a listening tour across the vast district, and regardless of how its borders might shift, he’s built up a connection with the community and understanding of its needs.

It’s helped that he’s lived there most of his adult life, having graduated from Penn State undergrad in 2006. He then went to Columbia Law, and upon graduation, began working for a firm that sued big banks on behalf of burned investors following the financial crisis of 2008. They sued Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, among many others, which gave him an inside look at the corruption at the heart of the financial industry.

“I think it pushed me pretty far in the progressive direction because I got to see all of their emails through the discovery process,” Friedenberg says. “And the really callous disregard that these guys had — they were mostly young guys following orders from the top, and were just so uninterested in the real world impacts of what they were doing with these financial instruments, which are incomprehensible to normal people. They just left everyone else holding the bag.”

Now Friedenberg teaches cyberlaw, and has broadened his focus to include tech monopolies. Once considered a niche issue, the vast power of companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Verizon has become a serious public concern, and Friedenberg is well-equipped to lead that fight. He’s learned from the best — including taking classes taught by Tim Wu, the man who coined the term “net neutrality” — and has also discovered firsthand how the economy is warped by these companies.

“I’m concerned about both the information monopoly and then also Amazon on the retail side, and the effect that it’s having on small retailers and even big box retailers, and the downward pressure it creates on wages,” he says. Friedenberg has come out in favor of the $15 minimum wage and Medicare for All, but knows those will be more difficult to enact with just a few monopolies running the economy.

Noting that Pennsylvania has both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the running to literally give Amazon billions for its headquarters, Friedenberg admits that he hopes neither city wins that tax break bonanza. “It’s just not going to work out. It’s going to work out for Amazon, but we’re going to be left holding the bag,” he adds. “It’s going to require federal involvement because there’s a race to the bottom. Either for political reasons or just out of sheer desperation, towns are going to continue to push for these giveaways.”

In that way, these big national issues become local concerns, which is where Friedenberg’s expertise can be crucial. Rural broadband penetration and internet speeds in America continue to lag far behind other countries, which increasingly leaves behind local small businesses trying to compete in the new economy. That comes down to both competition and infrastructure, and will require major investments that Thompson has been unable to secure.

The congressman has also been mostly in favor of fracking, another issue that worries the locals with whom Friedenberg has met. Thompson being out of touch with his constituents is a running theme, neatly embodied by the fact that his two offices are almost inaccessible, located far from any population centers in the rural fifth district. Friedenberg has already had geographers calculate potential office locations that would be no more than 90 minutes from any constituent’s home in the vast district. The borders may change a little bit, but Friedenberg plans on being an accessible champion for whoever winds up in his district.

CLICK HERE to donate to Marc Friedenberg using Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page