School shooting survivors attend Constitution Revision hearing in Cape Coral
For the last three weeks, Stoneman Douglas High School students have stepped to the forefront of the debate on gun control.
Five of them brought their message to Lee County Monday, making their case for changes being placed on the General Election ballot in the wake the school shooting that left 17 people dead and another 14 wounded.
David Hogg, Charlie Mirsky, Ryan Deitsch, Chris Grady and Alfonso Calderon were among hundreds of individuals attending the Constitution Revision Commission’s “Road to the Ballot” public hearing at The Westin in Cape Coral.
The students pulled no punches before the appointed panel that will determine which proposed amendments to the state constitution will go before the voters in November.
“Our legislators are supported by the NRA and they’re cowards who won’t take action to save children’s lives,” Hogg told the state-appointed panel. “If these legislators don’t want to be held accountable and don’t want to take action, we will bring it to a referendum.”
The Parkland survivors spoke about what they went through when a former student armed with an AR-15-style rifle opened fire and shot into multiple classrooms.
Students from local schools also expressed their views by putting up red and green cards to express their pleasure or displeasure on the measures discussed.
The Broward County teens have been thrust into the national limelight for demanding change in the wake of the worst school shooting since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, where a 20-year-old gunman armed with an AR-15 and a pair of pistols killed 20 people. The Florida teens have been subjected to heavy scrutiny for their outspokenness regarding the tragedy and gun control. They have been both praised and criticized, with right-wing conspiracy theorists falsely accusing some, including Hogg, of being “crisis actors.”
Hogg offered a “thanks for the publicity,” for those attacking the messengers rather than the message.
“I tell people they have done a great job advertising this movement regardless of what their opinions are. We think it’s important to be a critical thinker no matter how wrong you are,” Hogg said. “It’s kept us in the press and more than quadrupled my Twitter following.”
That scrutiny continued as Hogg and Deitsch were accosted at least twice Monday, once by a Second Amendment supporter, the other a woman who questioned whether they were high school students and demanded to see their photo IDs.
The students produced school identification.
Hogg bluntly stated that he isn’t an actor, but an activist. He said while he has seen some progress commercially, he’s seen not as much by elected officials.
Hogg said if legislators don’t act, it won’t matter in the long run.
“That’s why we need to get everyone out to vote because we need to get these people supported by the NRA that refuse to take action out of office,” Hogg said. “How many more children are going to have to die?”
“Any representative who wants to vote ‘yes’ and continues to tell us they voted yes, a yes to a bill that does not pass is the same as a no in the eyes of the people,” Deitsch said.
Mirsky said legislators have given them lip service from the beginning, saying what fine young people they are, only to vote against gun control.
“They try to treat us like adults, but we get a sense that they want us to disappear,” Mirsky said.
Deitsch also had a thing or two to say about the public hearing format, which allowed two minutes for anyone to make their case for amendment proposals, of which there were many.
“They hold these meetings every 20 years and I’m 18 years old. This is my first one, and quite frankly, I’m not impressed,” Deitsch said. “I see several people looking at their smartphones and it may be something important, but for something that happens every 20 years, you can put them away.”
He said the ballot should be thrown open and let the voters decide on anything that was proposed at the hearing, which was the fifth of six such public input sessions to be held around the state before the Constitution Revision Commission compiles its final report due to the Secretary of State by May 10.
Erika Donalds, the CRC chairperson at the meeting, said they are taking public participation into consideration, but that the gun proposals are new and did not go through the process, which has been under way for about a year.
“I’m not sure it’s something we can consider since it wasn’t part of our process before,” Donalds said. “The legislature is considering those proposals.”
A revision commission is convened every 20 years to examine and bring forward constitutional amendments to the state constitution for voter consideration.
There are 37 active proposals being considered this go-around from among the 103 that made it out of the committee process in the fall.
Those still on the table is an amendment to close the so-called primary loophole, Currently, primaries are open in Florida if the candidate slate is limited to one party. A write-in candidate on the ballot, however, closes the primary. Critics say this violates the spirit of the open-primary provision as write-in candidates often do not campaign.
Other proposals include a ban on offshore drilling, a residents’ bill of rights proposal, and dog races and death benefits for survivors of first responders and military members.
Florida residents can still provide input at flcrc.gov , via email to email@example.com , by calling (850) 717-9550 or by mailing your comments to the Constitution Revision Commission, The Capitol, 400 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee, FL 32399