The US House of Representatives last night, July 13, voted to establish a national system to alert and coordinate federal, state and local responses to active shooter incidents despite the opposition of Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and 167 other Republicans.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) broke ranks with his colleagues and party and voted for the bill.
The bill creates a federal coordinator for an Active Shooter Alert Communications Network similar to the Amber Alert System for missing children. The coordinator will work with federal, state and local governments to operate the network and establish procedures to respond to active shooters. The Government Accountability Office will monitor progress on the system.
“This vital legislation that we’re doing today will quickly warn communities when a gunman opens fire: a common-sense, life-saving measure widely supported by law enforcement,” said House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a floor speech.
The bill passed in response to a spate of mass shootings including the one on May 24 at Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were killed following a botched, uncoordinated law enforcement response. It was introduced in February by Rep. David Cicilline (D-1-RI).
Initially, the bill failed in the House in June when congressional supporters were unable to gain a two-thirds vote of the entire chamber to suspend the usual House rules and vote for passage. Yesterday’s vote required a simple majority.
As of this writing, none of Southwest Florida’s representatives had issued statements on any platform explaining their votes.
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Yesterday, June 24, Southwest Florida’s representatives in Congress voted against the final version of a bill to dampen gun violence and had fulsome praise for the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and end the right to abortion.
Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) all voted against the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (Senate 2938), which imposes new restrictions on gun purchases, helps states establish “red flag” laws, funds mental health programs and increases school security. It was constructed as an amendment to a measure proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) renaming a court house in Tallahassee.
The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 234 to 193. Fourteen Republicans voted with the majority to approve the bill.
Having been approved by both chambers of Congress, the bill now goes to President Joe Biden for signature. (UPDATE: President Biden signed the bill into law this morning.)
While that vote was taken in the afternoon, at 11:00 am that morning the Supreme Court released its ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization, striking down Roe v. Wade by a 5 to 4 vote.
Southwest Florida’s congressmen were quick to praise the Supreme Court ruling.
“Today, we saw the rule of law established under the Constitution prevail,” tweeted Donalds. “This monumental decision ends a once unconstitutional ruling riddled w/ judicial activism. Now the right to abortion rests in the hands of the people, where it belongs.”
“More than 63 million unborn children have been murdered by abortion since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973,” tweeted Steube. “I applaud the Supreme Court’s courageous decision today to reverse Roe v. Wade.”
“Today, the Supreme Court of the United States has applied sound constitutional principles to arrive at its opinion,” stated Diaz-Balart in a lengthy statement. “This decision is long overdue. The Supreme Court is to be commended.”
By a vote of 65 to 33, he United States Senate last night passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to make American communities safer (Senate 2938) by regulating gun sales and possession.
Both of Florida’s Republican senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, voted against the bill.
The bill now returns to the House of Representatives for final approval, which may occur as early as today.
In a bizarre bit of legislative maneuvering, the major provisions were tagged onto a bill that Rubio introduced in May renaming a US courthouse in Tallahassee after Joseph Woodrow Hatchett, a former US Appeals Court judge.
The bill expands criminal background checks for gun buyers, bars a larger group of domestic-violence offenders from being able to purchase firearms, and funds “red flag” programs that would allow authorities to seize guns from troubled individuals.
“Many are comparing the bill being considered in the Senate to what we did in FL. However, they aren’t the same at all,” stated Scott in a tweet explaining his vote.
In 2018, as governor, Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act, which went further than the Senate bill in restricting gun sales and establishing “red flag” provisions to allow seizure of guns from people considered a danger to themselves and others. Nonetheless, stated Scott, “The Senate bill is unacceptably weak on protecting due process & automatically restores gun rights to convicted domestic abusers. That’s why I can’t support it.”
As of this writing, Rubio had not issued a statement on any online platform explaining his vote.
Immediately after the 9:42 pm vote in the Senate, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) issued a statement: “On behalf of the House, we applaud the Senate for passing its gun violence prevention package on a strong bipartisan vote.
“Every day, gun violence steals lives and scars communities — and this crisis demands urgent action. While we must do more, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is a step forward that will help protect our children and save lives,” she stated.
“First thing tomorrow morning, the Rules Committee will meet to advance this life-saving legislation to the Floor. When the Rules Committee finishes its business, we will head immediately to the Floor. And we will send the bill to President Biden for his signature, with gratitude for his leadership.”
All of Southwest Florida’s members of Congress voted against the bill when it was first considered in the House.
Some indication of their likely votes came yesterday, June 23, after a Supreme Court decision striking down a New York restriction on concealed weapons. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) tweeted: “Today’s SCOTUS ruling is a massive win for our Republic and the Constitution that guides it. As Justice Thomas stated, the Second Amendment is NOT a second-class right, and this 6-3 ruling sets that in stone. DON’T TREAD ON ME & MY RIGHT TO KEEP & BEAR ARMS.”
Last night, June 8, Southwest Florida’s congressmen voted against the Protecting Our Kids Act, intended to reduce the incidence of gun violence.
The bill, House Resolution (HR) 7910, passed by a vote of 223 to 204. It now goes to the Senate where a small, bipartisan group of senators are negotiating the terms of their own gun safety bill.
The vote on the House bill was complex because there were separate votes on each of its seven clauses, or titles, to determine if they would stay in the bill. This allowed members of Congress to reveal on the record which anti-violence measures they supported or opposed.
The vote followed a day of dramatic testimony from 11-year-old Uvalde, Texas massacre survivor Miah Cerrillo, Uvalde parents and the mother of a victim wounded in the Buffalo, NY massacre.
All seven titles in the bill passed with majority votes, as did the bill itself.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in his district, voted against Title I, which raised the age for sales of semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21. He then sat out votes on Title II, which prohibits straw purchases of firearms and firearms trafficking, and Title III, which prohibits untraceable or “ghost” guns. He voted against Title IV, which requires safe storage of guns to protect children; Title V, which prohibits “bump stocks,” that allow semi-automatic weapons to function as automatic weapons; and Title VI, which prohibits high-capacity magazines.
He did, however, vote in favor of Title VII, which requires the Justice Department to file an annual report on the people who have been denied gun permits. The reports will include their “race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, age, disability, average annual income, and English language proficiency, if available.”
He then voted against the bill in its entirety.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), voted against all titles except Title VII, which requires the annual report. He also voted against the entire bill.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), like Steube, voted against all titles except Title VII, which requires the annual report. He too voted against the entire bill.
At an appearance Tuesday morning with Everytown for Gun Safety activists, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) asked: “Why would someone be against raising the age so that teenagers do not have AK-47s? Why would someone not want protection in their home so that the children cannot have access – dangerously – to guns in a deadly way? Why would we? Why would we not side with our law enforcement and say these ghost guns are a danger to all of us in our society?”
She continued: “So, for the children, I say to our colleagues: we really don’t want to hear about your political survival. Your political survival means nothing compared to the survival of our children.”
Immediately following the vote Donalds, who has a long record opposing gun safety and anti-violence bills in both the state legislature and Congress, issued a statement saying: “The knee-jerk proposals we are voting on today will do little to nothing to curb the infliction of heinous violence plaguing America committed by lawless maniacs hellbent on devaluing innocent life.” He called the effort to curb gun violence “an unabashed crusade on our Second Amendment” that “exposed the Democrat’s [sic] disdain and lack of respect for our fundamental rights established in our founding documents.”
Steube, an ardent gun possession advocate who waved a loaded pistol during a remote appearance at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, tweeted, “Why are we punishing law-abiding Americans and taking away their Constitutional right to protect themselves because 0.3% of the population commits violent crimes? I won’t stand for it.” He joined Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-3-Colo.) and host Laura Ingraham on Fox News to denounce the measures.
As of this writing, Diaz-Balart, who has switched positions on gun-related issues in the past, had not issued a statement on his votes.
Another gun violence measure, The Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act (HR 2377) is expected to come up for a vote as early as today. This is essentially a national “red flag” law establishing procedures for “federal extreme risk protection orders” and is similar to Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act, which was passed into law in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., massacre in 2018. These prohibit arms sales to people deemed a risk to themselves or others. Such people will be prohibited from possessing, shipping, transporting or receiving firearms.
“There are serious Fifth Amendment, constitutional issues with red flag laws because essentially your property can be taken from you by a court of law without you being able to defend yourself in said court of law. Those are the constitutional issues with red flag laws,” he said.
It is only a matter of time before the next massacre of innocents at the hands of a crazed, heavily armed gunman. The massacre could occur any time, in any venue, anywhere in the United States.
Southwest Florida is certainly not immune: there are lots of guns here and plenty of addled people to wield them.
In the wake of the Uvalde, Texas elementary school massacre there is yet another cascade of calls to “do something”—i.e., to in some way stem the flood of high performance weapons used against unarmed people peacefully going about their business.
Any proposed solutions are certainly not going to come from Southwest Florida’s elected congressional representatives. After Uvalde, congressmen from Southwest Florida have made the usual, pro-forma expressions of sympathy for the victims’ families. But they are also already falling silent and if history is any guide they will vote in Congress against any kind of gun law reform. Then the public outrage will die down and life will return to “normal.”
It’s as predictable as the coming of hurricane season—there will be storms, there will be damage and there will be death—but all a person can do is hunker down and hope not to be hit.
In contrast to hurricanes, of course, gun regulation is a human construct that could be enacted. However, among the three congressmen who make up the Southwest Florida delegation, not only is there no inclination to make any changes, there is nothing in their records or public positions to indicate they will do anything except resist reform and parrot the talking points of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
An examination of their records makes this clear.
Rep. Byron Donalds
In the 19th Congressional District, which stretches along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in the district, has made a major point of his pro-gun, pro-NRA positions. His 2020 campaign tag line was that “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”
Donalds’ opposition to gun violence legislation goes back to his time before he entered Congress. In 2018 in the wake of the massacre in Parkland, Fla., as a state legislator from the 80th District, he voted against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act in the Florida legislature, which banned the sale of bump stocks, raised the age for gun purchases to 21 and established a three-day waiting period for all firearm sales.
In his 2020 congressional race Donalds received a full endorsement from the NRA and an A+ rating from the NRA Victory Fund, denoting that he had “an excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues.”
Since entering Congress Donalds has voted and spoken out against the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1446) and voted against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (HR 1620). (Both bills passed.) These votes earned him an A rating from the Gun Owners of America, an organization even more fervent in opposing reform than the NRA.
On May 24 immediately after the Uvalde massacre Donalds tweeted: “No family should have to bury their loved one because of the actions of a sick & deranged animal. Our nation is suffering from a mental health crisis that is plaguing our society & senselessly killing too many. Erika & I offer our deepest condolences to the victims of this attack.”
Rep. Greg Steube
Another NRA A+ winner is Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district stretches from Venice to the Lee County line and includes large swaths of six interior counties.
Steube has been a defender and active proponent of unrestricted gun access throughout his political career beginning in 2010 when he first ran for the Florida House of Representatives. There, he was a sponsor of House Bill 4001, which allowed the carrying of weapons, both openly and concealed, on college campuses in Florida. He was endorsed by the NRA during his 2016 race for the state Senate and then in 2018 when he ran for Congress.
In Congress, Steube opposed a 2020 Democratic effort to ban guns from the Capitol grounds and introduced a bill to speed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ approval of applications to buy gun silencers. In 2021 Steube, like Donalds, voted against the enhanced background checks and violence against women bills.
In keeping with NRA and conservative orthodoxy, Steube favors hardening schools rather than regulating guns to prevent shootings. On Friday, May 27, Steube signed on as a cosponsor of the School Resource Officer Assessment Act, a bill that would require a national assessment of the number and status of school resource officers across the country. The bill was originally introduced in 2018 by Rep. Clay Higgins (R-3-La.) after the Parkland, Fla., massacre. It passed the House and then died in the Senate. Higgins reintroduced it this year on May 26.
The day after the Uvalde shooting, Steube tweeted: “‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ – Matthew 5:4. Keeping the students, families, and Uvalde community in my prayers during this horrific time.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
As Florida’s longest-serving member of Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) has a more complex record on gun access and violence than his two Southwest Florida neighbors.
Representing a district that stretches from roughly from Interstate 75 in Collier County to Hialeah in the east and including huge stretches of virtually unpopulated Everglades and Big Cypress territory, Diaz-Balart’s focus has been on the Cuban-American and Hispanic populations that provide most of the population of his district.
Throughout his political career in the state House and in Congress, Diaz-Balart maintained an A rating from the NRA, accepted its financial contributions and largely followed its lead on gun-related legislation.
In the immediate wake of the murder of 17 students and teachers (and injuring of 17 others) at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018 nothing changed in Diaz-Balart’s positions. He continued to accept contributions from the NRA. So pro-gun was Diaz-Balart that after Parkland he was the focus of an effort to unseat him by former Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, the victim of a shooting at an Arizona mall in 2011.
As Giffords put it in her endorsement of his 2018 opponent, Democrat Mary Barzee Flores:
“Here are three facts that you should know about Diaz-Balart.
“Number one: he’s taken thousands of dollars from the NRA. More money than any other Florida member of Congress. He even took their money AFTER the Parkland school shooting. After seventeen children and their| educators were gunned down.
“Number two: Diaz-Balart gets an A rating from the NRA year after year.
“And number three: Diaz-Balart voted to weaken our gun laws, not strengthen them. Diaz-Balart even refuses to support common-sense solutions like requiring background checks on all gun sales.
“Nothing’s going to get done with Diaz Balart in the NRA’s pocket voting against our safety.”
Despite the criticism and the passions aroused by the Parkland shooting, Diaz-Balart handily won his 2018 election.
However, he did shift slightly on gun legislation. In February 2019 he joined seven other Republicans to vote for the Bipartisan Background Check Act of 2019, which mandated background checks for private sales of guns. By voting for it, Diaz-Balart was defying both the NRA and the Republican congressional leadership. The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 240 to 190 but died in the Senate.
The bill was revived after the 2020 election as HR 8 and it came up for a House vote in March 2021.
This time, though, Diaz-Balart had second thoughts and voted against it. As he explained his reversal in a press release, the first time it came up he had hoped there would be “serious negotiations” but “the radical left altered this bill and, in the process, made it far worse and indefensible.”
That bill passed the House on March 11, 2021 by a vote of 227 to 203. It is now in the Senate.
At the same time Diaz-Balart joined two Democrats in sponsoring another piece of legislation, the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] Denial Notification Act of 2021 (HR 1769). Under this bill if someone is denied a gun license because of a background check, local law enforcement agencies have to be notified by the Justice Department. The bill was introduced on March 10, 2021 and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee where it remains to this day.
Diaz-Balart’s momentary lapse from pro-gun orthodoxy did cost him a bit politically: His grade from the hard-core Gun Owners of America slipped to a C. In 2020 his grade from the NRA Political Victory Fund was A. The 2022 grade is not out yet but it will be interesting to see where he falls when it’s published.
Last Wednesday, May 25, in the immediate wake of the shootings in Uvalde, Diaz-Balart tweeted: “I’m devastated by the senseless shooting at Robb Elementary School that took 19 innocent lives. School safety must be at the forefront of our priorities in Congress. I pray for the families, staff, and students that were victims of this merciless act of violence.”
Commentary: Incentives, disincentives and death
The politicians in Southwest Florida and across the nation who have consistently and stubbornly opposed any kind of gun regulation reform have made two risk-and-reward calculations, one political and one social.
The political calculation is that there are many downsides and no rewards for making any change to gun laws.
It’s not only that the NRA opposes any changes; it is that its followers and one-issue gun owners will more effectively punish a politician for heresy than reform supporters will reward him for righteousness.
There was a clear example of this in the 2020 Republican congressional primary in the 19th District after Rep. Francis Rooney announced his retirement.
At that time all the Republican candidates were ostentatiously loyal Trumpers and gun rights advocates, vying to show the fervor of their fanaticism.
Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, a Florida House member, was the first person to declare his bid for the seat.
By all outward signs Eagle was a properly extreme conservative, Trumpist candidate, a rising star in the Florida Republican Party and at the outset by far the strongest candidate.
But Eagle had a vulnerability: he already had an extensive political career in Florida even at the precocious age of 36.
In the wake of the Parkland massacre the Florida legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The bill imposed a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, raised the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 and banned possession of bump stocks. People deemed mentally unstable could have their guns confiscated under “red flag” provisions. It also created a program to arm school personnel and provided $400 million for school security and training.
It was quite unprecedented given Florida’s ingrained gun culture. It was a well-crafted bipartisan bill that embodied many of the reforms now being discussed nationally and for once Florida was in the vanguard of new ideas.
The bill passed with majorities in both the state House and Senate and was signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott on March 9, 2018, a mere 23 days after the Parkland massacre.
When Eagle ran for Congress in 2020 his opponents, outside advocacy groups and conservative political action committees were ferocious in blaming him personally for the bill. He was accused of “betrayal,” “selling out” and being a pawn of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. One television ad had him in a gunsight’s crosshairs and called him a “surprisingly liberal Republican.” One opponent called him “sick” because of the law.
Eagle fought back with dark, paranoid, violent TV ads and videos that featured him firing guns in just about every one to show his love of weapons and loyalty to the pro-gun cause.
But Eagle ultimately lost his primary bid to Byron Donalds. Just how large a role his supposed “betrayal” played in that defeat cannot be determined with certainty but the race was close.
That’s the nightmare Republican politicians face when they contemplate taking stands contrary to the NRA and it’s why they almost never do it. The gun voters will retaliate while the reformers aren’t cohesive and powerful enough to keep them in office—especially in Republican primaries. And that’s not to mention the pro-gun money on offer from gun industry-related political action committees and organizations.
Until there’s greater personal reward for voting for gun reform than punishment for voting against it, Republican politicians will continue to toe the NRA line and vie for its approval with ever more extreme legislation.
But there’s a second, social calculation that NRA-compliant politicians have made.
It is simply that the occasional random shooting and classroom massacre is just a price worth paying for unlimited public access to guns, industry profits and access to pro-gun votes and cash. In their view, by whatever imperfect means, society’s decision has been made and it has chosen to live with massacres in order to have guns.
Politicians have also calculated that with every massacre and mass murder the horror and the outrage and the grief will peak and then subside and be forgotten—but the cash and the threats and the votes of pro-gunners will always be there.
As for the children, the teachers, the shoppers, the churchgoers and the everyday citizens who might lose their lives to random gun violence—well, they’re just collateral damage.
It’s as though humans are a herd of buffalo on the old plains. The predators take down the weak, the sick or the slow—or in this case the innocent, the incautious and the unlucky. The herd takes note, and learns to live with the threat and the fear. Each member hopes that he or she won’t be the victim next time. Then the herd moves on—until it’s extinct.
In Southwest Florida this is especially true among Republican politicians, all of whose past statements and actions adhere to NRA doctrine—and in which they may actually, genuinely believe. But regardless of motivation, there has never been any apparent inclination nor is there any evident now, to take any action whatsoever to restrict or regulate guns. That is unlikely to change unless the next massacre occurs very close to home in Collier or Lee or Charlotte counties. Even then it would have to be a particularly dramatic and horrifying event to produce a transformation in thinking.
Of course, these are only the calculations within the locally-dominant Republican Party. There is an alternative. In Southwest Florida it is Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai who is running for Congress in the 19th Congressional District against Donalds.
Banyai was calling for four immediate measures to curb gun violence well before Uvalde. She wants:
A federal moratorium on the production and import of high-powered and fast-firing weapons;
Incentives for the state to create local registration for existing firearms and new purchases, requiring initial and routine training on safety and use, and oversight of all weapons sales;
Annual recognition by the state of safe firearms owners and distributors;
Voluntary buy-backs for those wishing not to register.
When she learned of the Uvalde shootings, Banyai tweeted: “I am struck with the same sick sadness as when I learned of Sandy Hook. The community of Uvalde and the kids of Robb Elementary School deserved more than thoughts and prayers as a shooter ravaged them.” And subsequently, “I am sick and tired of living in fear of the gun crazed America the NRA fueled. I do not want to live in this carnage. I love our kids. There cannot be another Uvalde.”
Sadly, there are likely to be more Uvaldes as the year progresses and some may be even more bloody and horrific. But the mechanism for reform still exists through a peaceful, non-violent ballot and on Nov. 8, Election Day, maybe—just maybe—the citizens of Southwest Florida will exercise that right for the benefit of all.
An in-depth look at dueling definitions of ‘sanctuary’ in America and Southwest Florida and what they mean for the future
July 7, 2021 by David Silverberg
Today the term “sanctuary” has taken on new meaning and is serving as a new cause of political controversy and contention.
This conflict is coming to a head in Southwest Florida—specifically in both Naples and Collier County—as movements to create sanctuary jurisdictions based on political criteria roil an otherwise placid region best known for its sunshine and beaches.
To understand the current conflict, it helps to go back into history and survey the evolution of the concept of sanctuary.
What are the origins of that concept? In the American political context, what were the sanctuaries of the past? What are the new concepts and how do they differ from previous concepts?
In a local context, how are these clashing concepts playing out in the American state of Florida—and especially in Southwest Florida?
And lastly, where is this heading and how is it likely to resolve itself?
The notion of a place of sanctuary is very ancient.
The ancient Greeks and Romans revered groves and temples where people could find refuge from the forces that threatened them. In ancient Rome even slaves could find sanctuary at statues of gods and owners who otherwise possessed them would respect the site.
But it was in the Middle Ages that what is commonly thought of today as sanctuary made its appearance. By the thirteenth century a person could take refuge from secular authorities or a mob in a church. The refugee was allowed 40 days of safety during which time he had to be fed and protected; meanwhile, the interlude afforded time for negotiations, clemency, confession or proof of innocence. If none of those things took place, the refugee left the church, forfeited his goods and went into exile—but stayed alive.
There have been other acts of sanctuary since then: French Huguenots were given refuge in England in 1681 in what may have been the first instance of a state offering sanctuary to another’s nationals. Today the concept of asylum has taken the place of the religious concept and been formalized between countries.
But in the United States the concept of sanctuary took different forms than in Europe—and for very different reasons.
The American context
From the day in 1620 that the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, the continent of America became a sanctuary for people fleeing religious persecution.
After the American revolution, President George Washington best expressed the American sense of tolerance and sanctuary in an August 17, 1790 letter to the Jewish congregation at Newport, Rhode Island, in which he said: “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
The concept of sanctuary was deeply woven into the social fabric of the United States. It was next tested by the greatest moral challenge of the 19th century: slavery.
Beginning in the late 1700s anti-slavery activists using a variety of routes became known as the Underground Railroad, providing escaping slaves assistance and sanctuary on their way to ultimate sanctuary in non-slavery locations, chiefly Canada.
In the 1980s during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, Cold War conflicts in Latin America led to a rise in political refugees fleeing to the United States from countries like Nicargua, where the US was supporting a “Contra” movement against the communist government and El Salvador where the US was advising a repressive government.
“Sanctuary widened from the idea of a church to sanctuary communities who confronted immigration policies and intolerance as manifested in immigration policies,” writes Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser in the 2017 paper The Sanctuary Movement: A Brief History. “These actions included legal help and provision of shelter in private homes and other settings. They provided shelter in churches and homes, and created a modern Underground Railroad for refugees.”
As with the Vietnam War sanctuary movement, periodically the federal government would crack down on the sanctuaries and their refugees. Federal authorities arrested refugees and the Immigration and Naturalization Service deported them.
In the 21st century the 2016 election of President Donald Trump gave rise to immediate fears of deportation of “Dreamers;” undocumented US residents who had come to the country as children and been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. During his campaign Trump said he would abolish DACA and deport the nearly 700,000 people, many of whom had known no other home.
Within days of Trump’s Nov. 3, 2016 election, his brutalist and threatening anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric led to a wave of “sanctuary campuses” at American colleges to protest his approach and provide refuge to migrants and Dreamers. From campuses the concept spread to cities.
The “sanctuary city” of the Trump era was one that refused to cooperate with federal deportation efforts. When a migrant was arrested, officials of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directorate of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would issue a “detainer” requesting a 48 hour delay before the person was released so that his or her immigration status could be checked. If the detainee was found to be undocumented, the person would be subject to deportation. In “sanctuary cities,” officials refused to honor detainers.
Although there were no declared sanctuary cities in Florida, on June 14, 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law outlawing sanctuary cities for migrants in the state.
Taking a leaf from the immigration sanctuary cities movement, conservative groups began using the “sanctuary” label for causes they regarded as threatened by the federal government.
To date, these causes have been protecting gun ownership, prohibiting abortion and nullifying federal laws.
“The push to impose ‘sanctuary’ and similar legislation is not the result of an organic, grassroots movement but rather a well-funded campaign marketed by the gun lobby and supported by antigovernment extremist groups such as Gun Owners of America, Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA),” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
On Dec. 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 six and seven-year old children, six adult staff and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. It was perhaps the most traumatic mass shooting in American history.
The shooting resulted in a wave of revulsion across the country and renewed calls for gun controls, some of which resulted in the passage of new laws governing gun ownership. This in turn led to a counter-effort.
On May 22, 2013, in response to the state of Maryland passing the Maryland State Firearms Act (MFSA) restricting the sale of different types of firearms, requiring their registration and limiting the size of magazines, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution calling the county a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.”
The Carroll County resolution announced that the county would not “authorize or appropriate government funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers or offices for the purpose of enforcing any element of the MFSA that infringes on the right of people to keep and bear arms… .”
Since then, similar resolutions have been passed by states, counties and municipalities across the country. There was another wave of resolutions following the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre of Feb. 14, 2018. As of July 2021, about 1,200 local governments in 42 states had adopted such resolutions.
In Southwest Florida, Collier County passed a resolution declaring it would not “assist, support or condone” any infringement of the Second Amendment on Feb. 26, 2013 but did not use the word “sanctuary.” Lee County passed a resolution on March 25, 2013, DeSoto County declared itself a gun “haven” on Jan. 21, 2020, and Charlotte County declared itself a gun sanctuary county on May 11, 2021.
On June 22, 2019 anti-abortion activist and preacher Mark Lee Dickson convinced the town council of Waskom, Texas, population 2,189, to pass an ordinance creating a “sanctuary city for the unborn.”
Of these, 29 are in Texas, of which the largest is Lubbock, population 278,831; two are in Nebraska (tiny Hayes Center, population 288 and Blue Hill, population 941); and one is in Ohio (Lebanon, population 20,529). Eight Texas cities are counted as “denying” an ordinance and the movement calls the state capital of Austin a “city of death” for its adamant opposition. The movement is aiming at 39 potential new sanctuary cities in Texas and one in Florida—Naples.
The movement continues its efforts, proclaiming that it is “Protecting our cities by outlawing abortion, one city at a time.”
With the debate over pandemic masking and other health measures in 2020 and in the wake of President Donald Trump’s defeat and the failure of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, there was a new wave of “bill of rights sanctuary” efforts—essentially anti-federal sanctuaries—primarily in the southern United States.
These had their genesis in the gun sanctuary movement but went even further, back to the Posse Comitatus movement that began in the late 1960s. That movement held that local sheriffs were the highest ranking law enforcement officers in any county and no higher legal authority should be recognized. That, in turn, gave rise to a Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association founded in 2011 to get local sheriffs to uphold the Second Amendment by refusing to enforce any state or federal restrictions on gun ownership.
The premise of these ordinances is that the federal government, having fallen into hostile hands, is now going to try to violate rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights—mainly the Second Amendment. Under these ordinances, localities, primarily at the county level, refuse to cooperate with any federal actions they regard as unlawful.
Who would determine that the Bill of Rights was being violated, what exactly constitutes a violation and how it will be remedied is unclear.
By specifically calling on states and counties to “nullify” federal actions the movement harkens back to the pre-Civil War debate over “nullification,” when South Carolina politicians argued that they had the right to nullify federal laws with which they disagreed. In 1830 that idea was crushed by Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts in the Senate (who concluded with the memorable line: “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and indivisible!”) and President Andrew Jackson, a southerner, who notably declared in a dinner toast: “Our federal union! It must be preserved!”
The current movement has a number of drivers. Organizations include Gun Owners of America, a non-profit lobby founded in 1976, which “sees firearms ownership as a freedom issue.” Another is Oath Keepers, the extremist organization of current and former military and law enforcement personnel whose members participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection and are being prosecuted.
An activist and nullification evangelist based in northern Florida is KrisAnne Hall, who characterizes herself as a “constitutionalist.” She has associated with far right and white nationalist groups, providing legal justifications for extremist anti-government beliefs. In YouTube videos and speaking engagements Hall preaches a pre-Civil War interpretation of constitutional relations and actively promotes nullification.
Addressing people who would pass nullification ordinances, in an April 21, 2021 video Hall stated: “If [your] law does not state that ‘we will not enforce this law’ and ‘we will not allow the federal government to enforce these laws here;’ if your law does not contain that language, it is useless!” she argued.
“We’ve got states out there that are trying to walk the fence, trying to placate you with their ‘Second Amendment sanctuaries’ and they’re going to turn around and say, ‘OK, we’re not going to enforce these laws but the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] can come in and do it, the [Federal Bureau of Investigation] can come in and do it, DHS can come in and do it, whatever, the [Internal Revenue Service] can come in and do it. That’s not sanctuary, people, that’s setup. That’s enticement, that is entrapment, that is wrong.
“And so if your law does not include some kind of restriction and penalty for the federal government exercising those laws in your state, it is not a good law,” she insisted.
Hall came to Southwest Florida on April 24, 2021 to address the Republican Club of South Collier County, where she shared a stage with Dan Cook, a Naples-based far right activist, and Alfie Oakes, the grocer and owner of Seed to Table.
A nullification “Bill of Rights sanctuary” ordinance was put on the agenda of the Collier County Commission on June 22. It is due to be considered next Tuesday, July 13.
Analysis: Insurrection by other means
The anti-federal, anti-abortion sanctuary movement has remained largely under the media radar, spreading in rural areas among small towns that rarely get national attention. To most Americans it no doubt seems fringe, odd and often absurd, so it has long been ignored.
But it bears attention because it is an effort to subvert and, indeed, overthrow the authority of the federal government and replace it with—what? Its advocates want to treat the nation’s laws, Constitution and Bill of Rights like a buffet whose offerings they can pick and choose or ignore if they wish. But law doesn’t work that way and the only alternative seems armed anarchy.
The anti-federal sanctuarists (and you read that word correctly, for the first time here) can make the argument that the left (or in the usual formulation, the radical Democratic left) started the sanctuary movement first.
They have a point. But there are important differences between what we’ll call “social” sanctuaries and “nullifying” sanctuaries.
In the American political definition, no matter who asserts it, “sanctuary” is an effort to carve out an exemption or exception from federal law—which should be uniformly applied and enforced across the country.
The social sanctuaries—the Underground Railroad, Vietnam resistance, Central American refuges, DACA and migrant sanctuaries—were all illegal and were acknowledged as such. They were acts of civil disobedience in which the participants were aware they were breaking the law and could face the penalties. They did it nonetheless because they felt they were serving a higher moral cause.
The nullifying sanctuaries—the anti-abortion and anti-federal sanctuary movements—are attempts to cancel federal law, the Constitution and Bill of Rights through creation of what is essentially a counter-government where federal law does not apply.
When it comes to local governments the big difference between the anti-abortion and anti-federal sanctuary movements and their gun sanctuary predecessor is that they are trying to impose ordinances on their jurisdictions—rules with the force of law and penalties for violations. Previously, towns and counties passed resolutions, which expressed an opinion or sentiment and did not carry penalties.
By denying the jurisdiction of federal law, the nullifying sanctuary movements are actually practicing insurrection by other means.
By passing these ordinances, states, counties and municipalities are starting down a slippery slope whose logical end is the creation of a separate polity subject to its own laws and sovereignty. This is also known as insurrection, rebellion or secession. The ordinances may pay lip service to the Bill of Rights but in fact they are rejecting the United States Constitution with its Bill of Rights, all the other amendments and protections of the rule of law.
Americans have fought and died to prevent that kind of insurrection. Just because this movement is legalistic and non-violent doesn’t make it any less dangerous to the cohesion and indivisibility of the United States.
The battlefield for America’s future has moved from the walls of the Capitol building to the small towns and rural counties of its heartland but the stakes are no less high.
America has been here before. It has faced and overcome rebellion, nullification, secession and most recently insurrection. It now needs to overcome the threats to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights cloaked in the language and the trappings of sanctuary. The choice is between constitutional democracy and anarchy.
Anyone looking for a sanctuary for freedom and the rights of the individual need look no further than the United States itself and its Constitution. It’s the greatest sanctuary in history.
Now it’s up to every truly patriotic American citizen to ensure that it remains that way.
The Collier County Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 13 at 9:00 am. Public petition speakers are limited to ten minutes and general address speakers to 3 minutes. The Commission Chambers and Commissioners’ offices are located on the third floor of the Administration Building at 3299 Tamiami Trail East, Suite 303, Naples, Fla.
It should come as no surprise that Southwest Florida’s representatives in Congress have responded to Monday’s mass shooting in Colorado and last week’s shooting in Georgia mostly with silence.
Rep. Byron Donalds
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) retweeted a Boulder Police Department tribute to Officer Eric Talley, the policeman killed at the King Soopers market rampage. Donalds added: “Officer Talley embodied the spirit of a hero, and I pray his loved ones are comforted knowing he died a hero. Thank you to all the brave law enforcement officers who devote their lives to protecting communities across America.” He made no mention of the other victims, who were peacefully shopping when the shooting began.
Donalds was the only candidate of nine in his Republican primary to receive a full endorsement from the National Rifle Association (NRA). He touted his gun ownership in his campaign tagline (“I’m a strong, Trump-supporting, gun-owning, liberty-loving, pro-life, politically incorrect black man”).
Rep. Greg Steube
Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district runs from Punta Gorda to Venice to Lake Okeechobee, had not issued any statement of any kind as of this writing. He has long been a vocal gun ownership advocate. Almost exactly a year ago he introduced the End the Normalized Delay of Suppressors (ENDS) Act (HR 6126) to try to force the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to more quickly grant permits for the purchase of gun silencers so that killing can be done quietly. The bill was not even considered in committee. He has called for carrying guns on the House floor.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), whose district runs from western Collier County and Immokalee across the state to Hialeah in the east, has made no statement about the shootings as of this writing.
Having been in office since 2003, Diaz-Balart’s relationship with the gun violence issue is longer and more complex than that of his Southwest Florida colleagues. For most of his congressional career he was a reliable opponent of gun regulation, even to the point that former representative Gabby Giffords, a shooting survivor, publicly endorsed his Democratic opponent, Mary Barzee Flores, in 2018, after the killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
In 2019 Diaz-Balart bucked his party and the NRA and voted for the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. That bill required background checks for arms transfers between individuals, closing a major loophole in the gun trade. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate.
This year Diaz-Balart switched his vote and voted against the same bill when it was reintroduced. This time, he stated that while he still supported background checks, the bill was now too far left and was “an overly-partisan and extremist bill that fails to effectively address background checks and imposes measures that amount to clear government overreach.”
This year it passed the House on March 11 by a vote of 227 to 203 but its fate is uncertain in the Senate.
The past and the future
Given this record it was unsurprising that these representatives did not join the chorus of congressional lawmakers calling for new measures to curb the latest wave of American gun violence.
Theirs was not the reaction throughout Florida. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-22-Fla.), whose east coast district includes Parkland as well as Fort Lauderdale, where five people were killed in a random shooting at the airport in 2017, said that the Boulder shooting emphasized the need for action to curb gun violence.
“…That’s why we need to act,” he told CBS-4 television news in Miami. “And that’s why we can’t just shake our head and say that’s one more thing and move on and wait for the next one,”
Deutch serves as the chief whip on the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, a group of more than 165 members of Congress who work on gun violence issues. He’s long supported a ban on assault-style weapons and broader background checks on gun purchases, measures also advocated by President Joe Biden.
Commentary:The Southwest Florida reaction
Nationally, the reaction to the shootings has been horrified denunciation by officials and private groups and there is new movement in Congress to take action to curb gun violence.
On the gun-saturated southwest coast of Florida, politically, not only is there no apparent urgency, there’s certainly no inclination by any elected official to propose or support gun restraints and no evident political incentive for taking any action at all.
But while expecting any kind of local legislative effort seems beyond hope, what is striking in the current instance is the resounding silence and complete indifference by local public figures toward the victims, their relatives and the survivors.
To date Southwest Florida has been spared any mass shooting. But guns are plentiful and opposition to restraint is fierce.
So if you hear popping while you’re shopping, get down, stay away from the source of the noise or open areas, try to leave if it’s safe and follow all orders from police.
Remember: You’re on your own. At least until 2022 you won’t get any help from your representatives in Congress.
And your surviving relatives shouldn’t wait for any thoughts or prayers from them, either.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district covers Charlotte County, Venice and northern Lehigh Acres, is opposing a Democratic effort to ban the carrying of guns by members of Congress on US Capitol grounds.
“The Second Amendment should not end at the steps of the Capitol,” Steube stated in a tweet yesterday, Dec. 16. “Yet another egregious overreach and Constitutional failure from the Democrats.”
The new controversy over congressional gun regulations was sparked by two events.
Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert (R-3-Colo.), a QAnon-endorsing newly-elected member of Congress, who frequently carries weapons, asked Capitol Police during new member orientation whether she could carry a gun on Capitol grounds. A 1967 regulation allows members to carry weapons. In his tweet, Steube stated that he agreed with Boebert.
On Dec. 15, 21 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter (reproduced below) to House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Fla.) and Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) asking for “inclusion of language in the House Rules package for the 117th Congress banning members from carrying firearms on Capitol grounds.”
The members argued that “Ultimately, the current regulations create needless risk for Members of Congress, their staff, members of the Capitol Police, and visitors to the Capitol grounds. A provision in the Rules package directing the Capitol Police Board to ensure that Member of Congress may not possess firearms on Capitol grounds would ensure clarity surrounding firearms policy and protect all individuals in and around the Capitol.”
The regulation, 40 U.S. Code § 5104, states that an individual or group “may not carry on or have readily accessible to any individual on the Grounds or in any of the Capitol Buildings a firearm, a dangerous weapon, explosives, or an incendiary device.” It makes an exception for members of Congress, staff and employees.
The US House of Representatives has been the target of gun violence in the past. On March 1, 1954 four Puerto Rican separatists fired about 30 rounds onto the floor of the House from the visitors’ gallery, wounding five representatives, one seriously. All four were arrested and given long sentences before being pardoned by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 and 1979. (The bullet holes are still in evidence and congressional lore holds that sticking a finger into one brings good luck.)
On July 24, 1998 Russell Weston entered the Capitol and killed two US Capitol Police officers, Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, before being subdued. Weston was captured, determined to be incompetent to stand trial and was committed to a mental institution.
Steube, a vociferous supporter of Donald Trump, has called for loosened gun regulations before. On March 5 he introduced a bill to speed approval of applications for gun silencers (technically known as suppressors) by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The ENDS Act (End the Normalized Delay of Suppressors Act) (HR 6126) would amend the tax code to give the ATFE a deadline of 90 days to decide whether to approve a suppressor application. The bill never made it out of committee and will die with the end of the 116th Congress.
The coronavirus crisis has elicited different responses from Southwest Florida’s elected officials and candidates—but they’ve also been busy on a variety of other fronts.
The most important measure taken in Congress regarding Coronavirus was passage of the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (House Resolution (HR) 6074) providing $8.3 billion in funding to fight the disease.
The bill passed the House by a whopping 415 to 2 vote on Wednesday, March 4. Among the Southwest Florida delegation, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) did not vote on the measure. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted in favor. (The two “nay” votes were Reps. Andrew Biggs (R-5-Ariz.) and Ken Buck (R-4-Colo.)).
The bill was rushed over to the Senate where it passed the next day by an overwhelming margin of 96 to 1, with both Florida’s senators voting for it. (The lone opponent was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)). Immediately thereafter, President Donald Trump signed it and it became Public Law 116-123.
Other than that major action, Southwest Florida reactions have varied.
Rep. Rooney: On March 3, Rooney posted a generic Coronavirus information page on his website but did not explain the reasons for his absence from the appropriations vote and all other votes since Feb. 26.
In other matters, on March 4, Rooney’s Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act (House Resolution (HR) 3297) was unanimously passed by the environmental subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. The legislation exempts the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science from government shutdowns, an issue that arose during the 2019 government shutdown.
Interestingly, the bill now has 14 co-sponsors, 10 Democrats and 4 Republicans, with heavy support from the Florida delegation. It next needs to be passed by the full committee and sent on to the full House.
Rep. Diaz-Balart: Diaz-Balart’s seat on the House Appropriations Committee affords him an active role in considering Coronavirus funding and he made the most of publicizing his vote for HR 6074. He also took credit when the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention announced its allocation of $27 million for Florida to fight the virus out of $560 million nationwide, part of the initial Coronavirus appropriation.
Rep. Steube: Steube tweeted out a list of links to get more information about the Coronavirus and let constituents know that the Capitol and House office buildings are closed due to Coronavirus. He voted for HR 6074.
Otherwise, his attention went from life-saving to life-taking. On March 5 Steube introduced a bill to speed approval of applications for gun silencers (technically known as suppressors) by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATFE). The ENDS Act (End the Normalized Delay of Suppressors Act) (HR 6126) would amend the tax code to give the ATFE a deadline of 90 days to decide whether to approve a suppressor application.
Steube argues that the ATFE is deliberately too slow in processing civilian applications for suppressors, which are used for silent killing. His bill would speed up the process and impose a deadline, getting more gun silencers into more hands more quickly.
“I have personally experienced the unnecessary delay of a suppressor application and as a member of Congress, I have met with many Floridians who have also experienced similar delays,” Steube complained in a press release. “A policy of delay, delay, delay is unacceptable and frankly violates the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
In other activities, Steube proposed ensuring that veterans have access to state-approved marijuana and introduced an amendment to Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2020 (HR 5602) to include Antifa, the Black Hebrew Israelite movement and a group called Anti-Police to the list of white supremacist groups to be monitored for terrorist activities. The amendment was approved and passed by the Judiciary Committee.
Coronavirus has made normal political activities like rallies, meetings and town halls nearly impossible—and canvassing and petition collecting are especially hard hit.
Cindy Banyai, Democratic congressional candidate, issued a call Wednesday, March 11 to delay the deadlines for petition submissions due to the Coronavirus, which is making face-to-face petition collection nearly impossible. Deadline to turn in the petitions is noon, March 23 for verification and April 20 to 24 is the general qualifying period.
To get on the federal ballot for Congress a candidate has to either pay $10,440 to the state of Florida or submit signatures equal to 1 percent of the district’s registered voters, which in the case of the 19th District comes to 5,052 signatures.
“By not waiving or extending the deadline for candidates to reach their petition numbers, you are effectively disenfranchising many grassroots-funded candidates who are unable to pay for the filings fees,” Banyai stated, directly addressing the Florida Department of State’s Election Division. “Governor DeSantis has already declared a state of emergency amid the spread of the coronavirus and he needs to step up to allow enough time for candidates to strategize about the next steps for their campaigns and ways to keep their communities safe.”
According to her statement, she is being funded by over 450 donors contributing about $50 each and she is refusing corporate or political action committee contributions. Since entering the race she intended to get on the ballot through petition signatures.
Among Republicans, State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) on March 6 tweeted that there was no need to panic over the virus and urged caution: “Unfortunately we have confirmed that a Lee County resident who tested positive for COVID-19 has died. This is the 6th confirmed case in Florida & 1st in Lee County. While there is no need to panic, it is extremely important that all take the necessary precautions to reduce risk.”
He was also at pains to defend Trump from accusations that he was responsible for a virus-related stock market crash that has been called the “Trump slump,” tweeting yesterday, March 12:
“For those that are blaming @realDonaldTrump for the stock market dip, just ask yourselves this: Did Trump sell out our manufacturing jobs to China? The answer is no. Establishment Republicans & Democrats like Joe Biden did. This would be much worse if Biden was President.”
The lone medical doctor among the candidates seeking the 19th Congressional District seat, Republican Dr. William Figlesthaler, issued a statement on his Facebook page urging calm and praising Trump for his measures shutting off travel to Europe.
While the nation was transfixed by the open House Oversight Committee hearing of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer (who also testified at two closed hearings), work done elsewhere more directly affected Southwest Florida.
Ending the state of emergency
As reported earlier this week, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, the House of Representatives voted 245 to 182 to terminate Trump’s state of emergency on the southern border. The legislation is now in the Senate.
In a startling break with his Republican colleagues and the president, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) for the first time in this session, voted with the Democratic majority and against the president’s wishes.
He joined 12 other Republicans in rejecting the state of emergency declaration, made on Feb. 15. Prior to that vote, Rooney had voted 100 percent with the president’s agenda in the 116th Congress.
This week was a particularly active week in addressing gun violence in the House as it considered two sweeping measures. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 (House Resolution 8), would require background checks on all firearms sales. The Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019 (HR 1112) would lengthen the waiting period for a gun purchase from three days to ten.
Rooney voted against both measures, which nonetheless passed the chamber with votes of 240 to 190 and 228 to 198 respectively.
In past appearances, Rooney has staunchly maintained that gun restrictions were unconstitutional, although in a May 30, 2018 appearance at The Alamo gun range and store in Naples, he said that while he could go so far as to support a limit on the size of gun magazines, “I just think we have to think real careful it doesn‘t become a slippery slope. You know, maybe you say if you use a magazine over a certain size you got to do it at a place like The Alamo or some kind of secure environment,” he said at the time.
However, he added, “…the thing that scares me is that a weapons ban, the last weapons ban, empowered the anti-Second Amendment people so much that they are using it against us now.”
In voting against HR 8 Rooney stated: “While we must continue to take action to end gun violence, what we do must actually be effective. Last year, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law, the Fix NICS Act, which penalizes federal and state authorities that fail to report relevant information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).”
In voting against HR 1112, Rooney argued that it did not address issues raised by the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding gun safety.
Supporting Betsy DeVos
This week Education Secretary Betsy DeVos introduced a new initiative to promote private schools. The initiative would provide a tax credit for donations made to private school scholarships, called Education Freedom Scholarships (EFS).
In Congress, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the Senate and Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-1-Ala.) in the House introduced Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act (not yet numbered at the time of this writing) to promote the program. Rooney signed on as a co-sponsor.
According to the Department of Education statement accompanying its unveiling, the “EFS will be funded through taxpayers’ voluntary contributions to state‐identified Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs). Those taxpayers will then receive a non‐refundable, dollar‐for‐dollar federal tax credit. EFS will not create a new federal education program but instead will allow states to decide whether to participate and how to select eligible students, education providers, and allowable education expenses.”
DeVos hastened to assure the public that the program would not hurt public education. “The policy would not rely on any funds currently allocated to public education, nor would it create a new federal education program. Participation would be voluntary for students, schools, and states,” she announced in a statement.
Despite these assurances, Democrats were quick to blast the proposal as another Trump administration effort to undermine public education.
“House Democrats will not waste time on proposals that undermine public education. We’re focused on reversing our chronic underfunding of public schools so that all students – regardless of their background – can learn in schools that are healthy, safe, and provide a quality education,” stated Rep. Bobby Scott (D-3-Va.), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee.
Surprisingly, criticism also came from conservative institutions like The Heritage Foundation. Lindsey Burke, director of the Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, and Adam Michel, a senior policy analyst in the Grover M. Hermann Center for the Federal Budget, warned that the proposal could reverse the nation’s school choice gains and recent tax policy reforms.
“It’s wonderful that the Administration wants to advance school choice but a nationwide federal tax-credit scholarship program is the wrong way to do it,” they wrote in a Heritage Foundation statement. “This could open the door for further education regulations down the road that neutralize the advantages of private education as well as impede future tax reform efforts.”
Rooney, whose education was entirely private, parochial and religious, has long been critical of public education for “driving an agenda of secularism, materialism and willingness to sacrifice principles for material possessions,” as he put it in his Alamo appearance.
Rooney has accompanied DeVos on several trips to Southwest Florida to tour schools here.
The initiative and its accompanying legislation chiefly benefits wealthy donors who can afford to make large financial contributions to private schools, providing them with another tax break. The scholarships benefit private and for-profit schools that chiefly cater to wealthy children.
(It is worth noting the warning made in the book Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House by Omarosa Manigault Newman, who served in the early Trump administration as liaison to the African-American community, about Betsy DeVos: “Her plan, in a nutshell, is to replace public education with for-profit schools”—all of them, the entire system, not just a few. “In each cabinet meeting, I was seated in the row near her. I can tell you, after a year of sitting in those meetings and observing her, that she’s woefully inadequate and not equipped for her job. She is just as horrible as you suspect she is. … She does not care about your children. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.”)
Coal lobbyist confirmed as EPA administrator
In the Senate, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, was confirmed as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The vote on Thursday, Feb. 28, was 52 to 47 with both of Florida’s Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, voting in favor of Wheeler’s confirmation.