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Thoughts, prayers and meaningful change

Gun violence plagues American society in a way not observed in any other first-world nation. America has already experienced 213 mass shootings in 2022 - an average of about 10 per week every week this year.

While I've examined this issue from a data perspective, gun violence has personally impacted my life since I was a kid.

When I was 9 or 10, my sister’s best friend watched her father kill her mother with a sawed-off shotgun at close range.

Years later, a friend of mine from college, a Rhodes scholar on a cross-country bike trip, decided to go see a movie with a friend one night during a stop in Aurora, Colorado. He was shot in the face, chest, neck and arms.

I read the entire Sandy Hook investigation report during a crisis communications course I took in graduate school, and the later-released 1,500-page FBI report. The detailed descriptions of what an AR-style firearm does to a five-year-old's body still haunts me.

Not only have I studied this subject from a scientist’s perspective and a crisis communication’s perspective, but I’ve personally known people who have been shot, whose lives have been destroyed because of domestic violence, and police officers who lost their lives after being shot in domestic violence calls.

Domestic violence calls are among the most dangerous for police to respond to and make up a shocking amount of the number of women killed each year with guns.

My “gift” has always been to see the humanity behind the data. To remember in vivid detail the experiences and pain interlaced in the statistics of people’s lives.

Like a lot of parents, I have become almost numb to the constant drumbeat of gun violence in our country. It happens, we’re sad, we’re angry, nothing changes; rinse, wash, repeat.

Something has to change. There are a lot of ways we could and should be addressing this issue, but simply doing nothing is not acceptable. We need to find some kind of compromise to take action because getting something done together is far better than getting nothing done on our own.

We have the power. Don’t let anyone tell you that we don’t. We can’t get upset for a week and go back to business-as-usual. Our drumbeat must be louder, steadier, and match the intensity of the moment beyond the initial shock and dismay.

We need action. Words are nice, but they’re not enough.

Politicians keep sending their thoughts and prayers but never their tactics or plans to try to stop it from happening again today or tomorrow.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping these victims and their families in your thoughts, or praying for those impacted by gun violence. I prayed that none of these parents pick up a gun themselves, that none of them give up on life, or never get out of bed again after experiencing such an unimaginable loss. I can't imagine the pain and grief the parents in Texas now face. I don't know that I'd be able to breathe on my own if this happened to one of my children. I feel like my heart would just stop beating.

But sending your prayers out into the universe won’t change policy, it won’t change people’s access to these weapons, and it won’t keep a troubled teen - as was the case in Sandy Hook, Parkland and Robb Elementary - from walking into Gulf Breeze Elementary, Pace Elementary, Holley-Navarre Elementary, or any other school and killing our children.

We need to start looking at the available data without getting angry, bringing up other types of violence or other unrelated causes of death, making outrageous claims about the “other side’s” intent, or blaming our neighbors for the failure of our leaders to act decisively and with compassion.

We have to start listening to each other, consider that people who disagree with us might actually have valid points and just cause for concern, and remember that the goal of creating laws in this respect is to protect people and save lives.

We can’t even discuss taking rational, widely-supported measures to curb specific types of gun violence - like mass shootings - without being accused of trying to “take everyone’s guns," even when no one is talking about that.

And for my progressive, liberal allies: I've seen a recent wave of Democrats stock-piling weapons out of fear of someone like Abbot or DeSantis becoming president, so please stop being so dismissive of conservatives who also fear autocracy.

The oft-cited need to keep weapons in a home in case of a government crackdown on speech and freedom seems increasingly less fringe these days, especially after the riots in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2020.

I get it, I really do. I actually know what it’s like to have the government send police to your house without a warrant or justification to point a gun at your head and at your children to terrify you into silence after speaking out against a corrupt regime. Few people in this nation have had that experience, thankfully. But the danger of such incidents occurring more often seems to be growing, especially with state governments increasingly exceeding the limits of their power and violating our most basic civil rights.

And I ask that we be respectful of people who don't see our point of view because their life experiences look nothing like ours.

I’ve been around guns since I was a kid - my dad kept one at home while he worked for the sheriff’s department when I was little. And I grew up in South Mississippi where we always had the first day of hunting season off from school. I completed my first hunter education course when I was 12 years old. I got my first hunting license when I was 16.

I’ve been shooting guns since I was a kid, and even after the gun violence my family experienced in December 2020, I feel like my family would be safer from the wrath of my government and the zealots it inspires with a gun in my home.

There are elements of firearm legislation that aren’t controversial, though, and would not infringe upon the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep a gun in their home for protection.

A background check for all firearm purchases - including private sale and other loopholes that allow about one-fourth of firearms purchases without standard background checks - continues to be supported by an overwhelming percent of Americans - between 84-94% percent, depending on the poll.

Only nine states and Washington D.C. have high-capacity magazine prohibition in place.

Our inconsistent and spotty gun laws make it difficult to create meaningful change when someone from New York - where high capacity magazines are illegal - can just drive over the border to Pennsylvania, buy high-capacity magazines, and drive back to New York.

It’s much easier to keep guns from coming into the country than it is to keep them from moving from state to state. We don’t have a national plan, and some states are suffering much more than others because of that. Even worse still, our data on the issue is limited because of bans on studying the topic in place for more than two decades which only recently expired.

Only recently did the CDC begin studies on gun violence in America following the end of a 25-year ban on spending federal dollars related to gun deaths and injuries in America. The Dickey Amendment ended in 2020 when President Trump passed the annual budget allocating $25 million for the CDC and NIH to research reducing gun-related deaths and injuries.

I’m providing a brief overview of current gun laws in Florida and a short history of how gun laws have been implemented at the national level since the 1980’s.

While the data we have is limited, it speaks volumes, as does the continued inaction of our leaders on aspects of firearms legislation that we nearly-universally agree on.

I ask that anyone with ideas and suggestions on how best to legislate this issue reach out to us. If you don't think certain popular elements proposed here are feasible, we're open to hearing why. If you think we're not going far enough with some of what has been proposed, tell us why.

The job of a congressional representative is to weigh the facts and evidence, listen to the people, and represent what is in the best interest of our community, state and nation.

As such, we're going to be conducting polling this week in Florida's First District to better understand attitudes regarding specific legislative ideas aimed at reducing gun violence. The poll will take a few days to prep, a few days to conduct, and should be done within 7-10 days.

We'll post all of the findings here so that our community has a voice on the matter that can inform my positions.

Too many people will regurgitate someone else's talking points in the coming days and weeks. We're not going to do that. Because meaningful action means informed and evidence-based decision making, with input from the people, and compassion for the victims.

That's how I'll lead, and why you should vote for me this August 23 (primaries) and on November 8, 2022.

Where current firearms laws stand in Florida

Following the tragedy at Parkland in 2018, Florida Republicans passed a gun-reform package that was among the most restrictive in the nation. The package included raising the legal age to buy firearms from 18 to 21, created a waiting period of three days for firearm purchases, and banned bump-stocks.

The bill also expanded mental health services and regulations, allocating more funding to school districts for mental health care.

The bill also created what are now known as “Red Flag Laws,” which allow the police to both confiscate guns from anyone they deem to be a danger to themselves or others (without a hearing, trial or due process), and add individuals to a list barring them from purchasing guns for a year (with judicial approval).

More controversially, the bill allowed for arming teachers and school staff, and did nothing to suspend or ban AR-style weapons or strengthen background checks.

Brief history of laws relating to firearms and their measured impacts on gun injuries and deaths.

George Bush Sr. signed legislation banning the import of certain semi-automatic weapons in 1989, including the UZI, Galil, AK-model weapons, Beretta AR-70, and other models.

A federal assault weapons ban passed in 1994 supported by former presidents Ford, Carter and Raegan expired in 2004 and led to a sudden and dramatic uptick in gun violence - not just in America, but in neighboring nations, as well.

A 2013 study showed that the expiration of the FAWB in 2004 "led to immediate violence increases within areas of Mexico located close to American states where sales of assault weapons became legal. The estimated effects are sizable... the additional homicides stemming from the FAWB expiration represent 21% of all homicides in these municipalities during 2005 and 2006."

According to research done by the Violence Policy Center, in 2016 one in four law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty were killed by an assault weapon.

A 2018 study examined the types of crime guns recovered by law enforcement in ten different cities and found that assault weapons and semiautomatic guns outfitted with large capacity magazines generally accounted for between 22 to 36% of crime guns recovered by police.

Since the expiration of the assault weapons ban in 1994, incidents of mass shootings and the number of casualties have skyrocketed - the only exception during the last 18 years being 2020, when much of the country, schools and public venues were closed due to COVID-19.

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While the rest of America moved forward Tuesday, Florida took a giant leap back. Words cannot express how shocked and disappointed we all have been to watch the election unfold in our beautiful state.

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