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Let's talk about gun safety now

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Norine Dworkin

Editor in Chief

Thursday, September 8, 2022


Geoffrey Fairchild

Seven percent of kids live in homes where at least one gun is loaded and unlocked according to a national study.

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Two threats in two days. After Wednesday’s scare over a “written threat” against West Orange High School that brought Orange County Sheriff’s deputies to campus and put the school on “hold” for several hours, VoxPopuli talked with Cristina Coleman, a gun violence prevention advocate for the Brady United Florida State Executive Council, about real-world gun safety measures that could help reduce the risk for school shootings.

Just as we were about to publish, we learned via Twitter that the high school had received yet another threat as Orange County District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson tweeted, “Kurt Vonnegut books are being banned in some FL schools while my children are on lock down for the 2nd day due to gun threats. Why is the 2nd Amend more important than the 1st? Free thought is not a threat to our children guns are!”

WESH reports that the person behind the threats has been identified and questioned by authorities. Meanwhile, Norine Dworkin’s conversation with Coleman has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VoxPopuli: What were you thinking when you heard that there was a threat against West Orange High School?

Cristina Coleman [deep sigh]: Not again. I was working, so I hadn’t heard about it until you told me. Then I looked it up, and I thought, Not again. I was scared, very fearful.

VoxPopuli: Orange County schools have been in session for a few weeks, but across the country many school districts have just resumed after Labor Day. What do you think about the timing of this threat?

Coleman: I can't speak to the particular threat in terms of who sent it or if they knew or thought about the coincidence of the timing, but the fact that yesterday [Tuesday] was the first day back for the schoolchildren in Uvalde is really alarming and upsetting. Their last day of school was a massacre, and I think that's on everyone's minds. Many people are on heightened alert because of that. I know I certainly am. There was [a] similar situation eight days ago, [of a nonspecific, unsubstantiated video threat, posted on a gaming platform, and not aimed at any particular school, according to Orange County Public Schools]. 

I think across the nation, gun violence has finally reached this level of awareness where people are saying, “Wow, you know, it really can happen anywhere, anytime, anyplace.” Somehow, we have to curb this. I've worked in the field for a long time, and I don't have any doubt it's the guns.

VoxPopuli: So, if it’s the guns, how do we curb this? We’re in an election year, what should people be thinking about before they vote?

Coleman: It always comes back to needing better gun laws. And a lot of people will scoff at that. I know that. I’m well aware. But we need safe storage laws, better safe storage laws. Seventy-six percent of school shooters get their guns from the home where there are unsecured and easily accessed firearms, so this is imperative that we get this done.

In the Newtown Action Alliance and Brady Florida, we’ve been working to advance Ethan’s Law for quite a while now. Ethan’s Law passed in the House. It’s a safe storage law. However, Senators [Rick] Scott and [Marco] Rubio [who is up for re-election in November] have not co-sponsored or endorsed it in the Senate, nor have they signaled any support for it at all.

VoxPopuli: What would Ethan's Law do?

Coleman: If there is a minor in the home where there’s a gun, that gun and ammunition need to be locked up separately. Florida has a safe storage gun law on the books, so a lot of people would say, “We already have that. Why do you want this?” Ethan’s Law is stronger. Right now, if a child gets shot, and either maimed or killed by an unsecured gun in someone else's home, the parents have no civil recourse. They can't do anything. It wasn't a criminal act, it was just an accident. They can't sue. Ethan's Law has some teeth to it. There are consequences. If a minor, or a resident who can’t lawfully possess a firearm, gains access to one and causes an injury, there’s a $500 fine for each unsecured firearm on someone’s property, and they can be imprisoned for up to five years.

VoxPopuli: There’s another law you want to see passed. In fact, you’re asking politicians directly where they stand on this. Let’s talk about that.

Coleman: We started asking politicians, especially after the summer, “Would you vote for the assault weapons ban? Yes or No?” We’re not only asking candidates in state, local and national [elections], but we’re asking governors, too, because we want to get people on the record: “Are you going to fight for our children? Are you going to fight for us so that we can go to the movies or the mall or the grocery store?”

VoxPopuli: What else can people do?

Coleman: Vote, vote, vote, vote. Make sure you're registered to vote, and vote. Find out where the candidate you want to vote for stands on this question. It’s a ‘yes or no’ question.

People need to be certain of who they're voting for and to ask the question: How do you feel about safe storage [laws]? Are you in favor of the assault weapons ban? What’s their answer? Is it yes? No? Or in the shades of gray? Because, at this point, after all the people that we have lost, all the children we have lost and will continue to lose, it needs to be a black and white answer.

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