Many Democratic legislators seem more interested in keeping high scorers from the NRA and the approval of Marion P. Hammer than actually being right. Earlier this week a court threw out Florida’s pathetic “Docs and Glocks” legislation which received the support of many Democrats from urban areas.
House vote on final passage
Senate vote on final passage
As we have repeatedly demonstrated on this website, many Florida Democrats are fearful of Hammer and the gun lobby despite the fact that public opinion polls have generally shown support in this state for gun control measures. This is particularly true in the urban areas represented by many of the Democrats who voted for this and other pro gun legislation.
We are told Florida is a conservative state and because of that in many cases Democrats must support the right to bear arms, and in the case of the stand your ground law the right to use arms indiscriminately. Despite being the most urban southern state, Florida’s gun laws are worse than most of the states in the region. The Florida Legislature, under Democratic leadership and influenced by north Florida conservatives and the NRA, passed lax gun laws that helped make the state a crime ridden embarrassment throughout the 80′s and early 90′s. The 1987 passage of the “right to carry” law ushered in an era of increased crime in Florida’s urban centers and continued national shame.
Bill Nelson’s failed 1990 Gubernatorial campaign was the first in modern Florida history to discuss gun control. It was surprising given Nelson’s own mixed record on the subject as a member of Congress, and he was smashed by Lawton Chiles in any event. In the Chiles’ years, the Governor was perennially to the left of a legislature becoming increasingly GOP dominated. The last few years of Chiles’ life were spent playing defense against the dogmatic conservatism of the legislature by using the veto pen and at times escaping the Capitol altogether to go turkey hunting in southern Georgia.
In the mid 1990′s, as conservatism was surging around the country, Florida was being overrun by those who were more interested in pushing ideology than good public policy. The emergence of Floridian Marion P. Hammer as a national figure furthered the ideological zeal of Florida’s Republicans. Hammer became NRA President in 1995, coinciding with the growing influence of the state GOP. Many legislators who represented urban areas were more loyal to partisan dogma than to their constituents.
Under Marion P. Hammer, the NRA consistently spun that Florida citizens were against all forms of reasonable gun control. But in elections where gun control was a central issue refuted this claim. In 1994 Jeb Bush embraced the NRA mantra accusing Lawton Chiles of being soft on crime. Bush lost. In 1996, Bill Clinton touted his strong record on gun control and he crushed GOP nominee Bob Dole who was closely allied with the NRA. In 2000, Bill Nelson defeated Bill McCollum, one of the NRA’s most celebrated champions in Congress for the US Senate. Also that year Al Gore ran the most pro-gun control campaign in the history of the United States Presidential Elections: Gore was denied Florida’s electoral votes by court intervention and other political games but he almost without question was the choice of the majority of Floridians who turned out on November 7, 2000. While Gore’s strong stand in favor of gun control likely cost him New Hampshire, West Virginia and his home state of Tennessee (all of which had voted Democratic in 1992 & 1996) it probably won him Florida.
Chiles, Clinton, Nelson and Gore all won the majority of urbanized I-4 corridor counties, yet legislators representing those counties often times sat at the forefront of any NRA led effort to weaken Florida’s gun laws. Republican legislators, aided by weak-willed Democratic allies, literally proved they could not read policy papers, studies about crime rates, poll numbers or election results. The only sources of information that mattered to them were the GOP platform and NRA legislative bulletins.
More importantly than the Democrats was the continued GOP effort to cow tow to the NRA agenda. When Republican advancement within the party is tied specifically to their voting record on gun control related issues, and they are indoctrinated in this philosophy by outside organizations, members from the most crime ridden and sensitive areas cast votes directly contrary to their constituents wishes. By tying itself directly to the conservative apparatus in the state, the NRA was able to control the process to its advantage and force legislators of both parties to routinely cast bad votes.
Florida Government has been essentially used as a laboratory by conservative think tanks and activists since Jeb Bush was elected Governor in 1998. Among those taking advantage of this was the NRA and their national allies who used Florida to push bad gun laws, and then exported these laws to other states. The “Stand Your Ground” law, pioneered in Florida has now been passed in a majority of state legislatures nationwide. It is important for Florida progressives and to understand what has happened to their state and why exactly it has happened.