League of Women Voters takes on gun control

The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board meets with the League of Women Voters of Florida’s statewide Gun Safety Committee.

(Start at 45 seconds- there is a long repeating intro)


League of Women Voters takes on gun control

by Beth Kassab – Contact Reporter (re-printed)

June 29, 2016, 5:43 pm

This isn’t your grandmother’s League of Women Voters.

Nobody thought a group of ladies who lunch could take on Florida’s long-entrenched political establishment and radically change the way districts are drawn for state and congressional elections.

But they did.

And they won.

It took a decade — from rallying voter support for two constitutional amendments to a protracted legal battle with the Legislature — but the Florida League of Women Voters helped lead what many saw as a nearly impossible push to end gerrymandering so fair districts could be established.

Now this group of women — and some men, too — who might be mistaken for feisty book club members who enjoy a side of political intrigue with their chicken salad and iced tea, are vowing to take on gun control, one of this country’s most intractable problems.

“Fair Districts, that was a 10-year-long battle,” said Pamela Goodman, president of the Florida league. “It has taught us that perseverance does pay off. And we didn’t have as large of a coalition on that issue as we do on this issue.”

gun safety

Democrats force poll of legislators on gun special session.

More than 70 groups are joining with the league to form the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, including several churches and religious leaders, Equality Florida, some school board members and Doctors for America.

It’s first action: a June 29 letter to Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli in the wake of the shooting at Pulse nightclub to ask for a special session to pass a ban on assault weapons similar to seven other states and on large-capacity magazines similar to restrictions in eight other states.

The letter also asked for Legislators to require background checks for all gun sales, including private sales.

No response yet from the governor or the leaders of the Senate and the House.

And Goodman says she isn’t surprised.

Demands this week by House and Senate Democrats for a special session to vote on gun policy are also headed nowhere.

But unlike the Democrats who are up for re-election this year and making gun policy a campaign issue, Goodman says she’s settling in for the long haul.

“It’s only the beginning,” she told me. “We certainly understand how long the NRA has had control of our Legislature in this state, and we don’t expect that to change overnight. But we do believe people have had enough.”

No, this isn’t your grandmother’s League of Women Voters.

They still wield clipboards and walk art festivals and farmers markets to register people to vote.

And they still hold monthly luncheons.

Pamela Goodman

Pamela Goodman of Palm Beach Gardens. On May 16, 2015, she was elected president of the Florida League of Women Voters. (Courtesy)

But these ladies aren’t satisfied with talking policy in Florida. They want to help shape it.

They are officially non-partisan and don’t endorse candidates. But they aren’t shy about taking policy positions.

They are against the bear hunt and for solar energy. Against fracking and for Medicaid expansion. Against limiting early voting hours and for more accountability for charter schools.

All of this has led to criticism that they’ve veered too far left of center for a group rooted in making sure voters have access to the polls.

Goodman, though, doesn’t see the issues, particularly limits on gun sales, as left or right, liberal or conservative.

Most Americans don’t, either. Polls show 90 percent of Americans favor background checks for all gun buyers. National support for a ban on the sale of assault weapons ranges from 54 percent to 59 percent, according to seven Quinnipiac University polls from 2013 to 2015.

“We don’t see this as a partisan issue,” she said. “This is a public safety issue … Let’s talk about what is sensible, fair and right for Florida citizens.”

All it takes is a look at the statistics to see that gun violence is a public health crisis in this state.

homicides in Orange county

Besides those at Pulse nightclub, 64 homicides reported this year in Orange county.

Orange County’s homicide tally is up to 113 in the first six months of this year. And 100 died from gunshot wounds, including the 49 killed in the June 12 shooting at Pulse nightclub.

Even excluding the killings at Pulse, the deadliest shooting in the U.S., that’s a big jump from the first six months of last year when there were 44 total homicides and 31 from gunshots.

The league isn’t new to advocating on gun policy.

Patricia Brigham, who leads the league’s committee on the subject, said, “We’re seeing movement for gun safety.”

She notes that a bill supported by the NRA to allow students and faculty to carry concealed firearms on college campuses failed this year. So did a proposal to allow people in this state to openly carry firearms on the outside of their clothes rather than conceal them. A bid to expand the “stand your ground” law also died.

But she also knows those bills will more than likely be back again next year. And, again, after that.

Nobody — least of all the league — is expecting an end to the fight for more sensible gun laws any time soon.

bkassab@orlandosentinel.com