When Violence Hits Close to Home
It’s too easy to buy a gun in Florida. Some are proposing “mental health” issues as a main factor in mass shootings, but in reality very few shootings are caused by people with severe mental illness and the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. The American Psychiatric Association reports fewer than 1% of firearm fatalities in 2016 were caused by people with mental health disorders. Killers are much more likely to have a history of violence which is overlooked. With no background checks on private sales, people who shouldn’t own weapons for many reasons are buying them anyway.
Just 5 miles down the road from my house, a 30-year old man named Brian Disario did exactly that in June of 2017. Brian was not a violent man but he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 19 and had been hospitalized repeatedly. He’d even been held under Florida’s “Baker Act,” which allows someone to be taken into custody for emergency mental health treatment. Brian stuffed cotton balls in his ears to try to block out the voices. Still, Brian was able to legally purchase an AR-15 from a sheriff’s deputy.
Brian’s mother Kathy is a nurse who knew the risks all too well. She tried to keep up with her son’s medications, but he decided that the pills made him nauseous. He stopped taking them, because he wanted to be able to drive his mother to her breast cancer treatments.
When Kathy discovered the AR-15 she contacted the police. She told them Brian was off his medications and begged them to confiscate the gun—but Brian had purchased it legally, and there was nothing they could do. Four months later, he had a mental break.
While hallucinating, he shot a friend to death and went wandering down the road. Within a block of an elementary school, he got into a shootout with police. Then he fled back home and, perhaps realizing what he had done, committed suicide.
Kathy supports the Second Amendment, but she can’t understand why her son was allowed to own a gun. She did everything possible to prevent this tragedy, but our state laws are so lax no one had any authority to intervene. Brian’s case is unusual, but it illustrates our flawed system which failed him and everyone he harmed, including himself.
Another Day, Another Mass Shooting
Our system also failed the Parkland victims. I am heartbroken and horrified by everything those brave kids have been through, but I am most infuriated by the insipid response from our elected officials.
Ever since Republicans took control of the state Legislature they’ve pandered to the NRA, weakened gun laws, and increased the risk of violence in our communities. Now the Florida Attorney General says the state will pay for the victims’ funeral expenses. Although this will surely help some of the families, it’s ultimately a cynical and hollow gesture.
Our leaders are using taxpayer dollars to deflect responsibility for how these teachers and students died in the first place.
Preserving Liberty While Taking Reasonable Precautions
Many of my supporters have asked where I stand on gun control. As a gun owner myself, I firmly believe in our right to bear arms—but as citizens, we have a responsibility to handle them safely. This means doing everything we can to make sure gun ownership is monitored and regulated. Yes, Florida is ranked 50th in the nation when it comes to funding for mental health programs—let’s work to change that because it’s the right thing to do, though evidence suggests it won’t have much of an impact on gun violence.
I believe we should have universal background checks and registrations for all gun sales, private or not. I want a ban on bump stocks, large capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets. We need clearer definitions and much greater restrictions on assault weapons. I want a ban on firearm access for known foreign and domestic terrorists. We must close the “boyfriend loophole” and prohibit gun possession for those with stalking convictions and restraining orders. Policies and laws should be based on threat assessments for dangerous behavior and law enforcement should be empowered to protect our communities.
Furthermore, I’d like to see a lifetime ban (not just a 3 year wait, as it is now stands in Florida) for those with domestic violence convictions.
This is especially important, because domestic violence is often a “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to predicting acts of catastrophic public violence. A significant majority of shooters have a history of violence against women.
When Connecticut tightened their firearms laws after the Sandy Hook massacre, gun violence in the state dropped by 23% and crime in general has hit its lowest rate since 1967. With more courageous leadership, Florida could do the same.
A Path Forward
Right now, I don’t believe for a moment that our GOP-controlled state will pass any meaningful gun control legislation. After all, Republicans including my opponent Amber Mariano just voted to decline to even discuss any potential assault rifle ban or regulation…while a number of Parkland school shooting survivors watched and wept.
Republicans hope that this most recent massacre will fade from the headlines and people won’t be quite so upset by the time we hit the polls in November. Let’s prove them wrong. Support my campaign, join our contact list, and let’s fight together to make Florida a safer place for us all. Public safety is more important than anyone’s right to own a gun.
~Dr. Linda Jack